AE: You write that in order to achieve a transcendent orgasm, women need to feel safe and protected. You mention things like candlelight and drawn baths. Reading that, I had a mixed reaction and was trying to think about why. First, I’m wondering if you really mean that across the board women like baths or if when you use these sort of examples, you’re reaching for the most culturally relatable —
NW: Right, it’s a metaphor.
AE: But these are the things that when taken out of context, in our sound bite culture, might interfere with your book’s intended message.
NW: Interesting. I’m sure you’re right. That’s perceptive. So in that section, I’m literally just looking at what’s getting these great results in tantra and mapping it up against, is there anything that science has to say to confirm the reasons for these great results? In the section you’re referencing, the women had okay orgasms in a brightly lit, scientific environment, but when one woman insisted on going home to a comfortable, softer lit environment with her lover it quadrupled the intensity of her orgasm. That’s an interesting takeaway about comfort and beauty in your surroundings. Obviously it’s comfort and beauty as you define it. And the book is not prescriptive. I’m saying, here are the results that scientists have gotten, or tantric practitioners have gotten. I’m not recommending, I’m reporting.
AE: You say “comfort and beauty as you define it.” Certain women aren’t necessarily interested in a typically soothing romantic situation. What about women who draw sexual pleasure from more aggressive sexual behavior?
NW: My whole orientation toward women’s sexual choices and responses is that they should do what they want. I talk briefly (and in fact more directly than a lot of feminists have) about how a lot of women respond to S&M, bondage, submission, domination. I say at one point, you may want hot anonymous sex down a dark alley. It may vary according to the time of the month. Not only is women’s sexuality fluid, but what women want is fluid. When you’re ovulating, you may want to get fucked hard by your lover, when you’re not, you may want her to take you dancing — I don’t care. I’m just interested in exploring the mind/body connection. I do have to say that section on the Goddess Array — this is why I’m so pissed off about the absence of data for lesbian couples. The women who were complaining about not having that stroking, seduction, wooing in their lives, most of them were heterosexuals. These are things heterosexual men tend to not do enough of. Does that mean that lesbians do more of it, I don’t know.
AE: If it helps, that was the point at your lecture last night where a woman behind me whispered, “I think my girlfriend is a man.” Speaking of last night, I thought I understood you to say the fact that you reference your own experience in your book is part of what has drawn critic’s ire. Yet, feminist writing has a history of extrapolating from personal experience.
NW: Yeah, it’s a genre.
AE: I’m wondering if this became a problem because of people’s need to think in absolutes: Science is one thing, personal anecdotes are another, as if by referencing your own experience you undermine the objectivity of science.
NW: I truly don’t fully understand the critical response because it doesn’t seem aimed at the book I actually wrote. And as time goes on and there are more and more positive reviews and reports from various quarters, people are calming down enough to actually read the book I wrote. I do think some critics seem upset that I talk about my own personal sexual experience in six pages and I think that has to do about the general sexual silencing of women about desire — and that goes for women of all sexualities. I don’t think anyone said how dare she combine personal experience with science, because that’s something I’ve done for eight books.
AE: Another criticism I’ve heard is that the jump you make from the science you use to the conclusions you draw is far-fetched.
NW: In the book I do an analysis of dopamine. Some are saying, you can’t conclude that dopamine has feminist implications. Well, fuck that, I totally can conclude it. You don’t have to agree with me, but if I’ve cited the science accurately, which I have, then if I see that dopamine scientifically goes to motivation, focus, assertiveness, sociability, trust in one’s own judgement, goal orientedness; absolutely, as a cultural critic I’m allowed to say in my opinion this has a feminist implication in the world and this is theoretically why female sexuality, desire and pleasure have been targeted. That’s entirely appropriate. I did it in Misconceptions, I did it in The Beauty Myth. I don’t feel like a lot of the responses have been intellectually rigorous.
AE: So, what’s going on in this cultural moment that might be causing the negative reaction you’re receiving?
NW: I essentially wrote the same book in Misconceptions, but it’s about the brain/uterus connection, the brain/breast connection in relation to childbirth. No one peeped a word about it. I think it’s because motherhood is not transgressive and talking about female desire is highly, highly explosively transgressive, even now. I do acknowledge that the science in the book is tough to process from a conventional feminist orthodoxy of the last thirty years. I found it tough to process it too, but what do you do? Do you pretend it doesn’t exist or do you look at it and discuss it and debate it? If the feminist goal is to create a just world, it’s disorienting to find that there’s a sexual center at the mouth of the cervix. It’s true for lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals but it’s not politically correct.
AE: And what, it’s a fear for women of being reduced to our bodies?
NW: There are many fears. Certainly the fear is that data about the mind/body connection could be used against us, but my point is any data gets used against us. You can’t hide from new discoveries. You have to say, that’s new information about who we are, but we’re going to define who we are. Pretending the science doesn’t exist is not going to help us make sense of our world. I personally think it’s part of the feminist mission to empower women with knowledge about their bodies and their sexuality. I can’t believe there’s a question about that. To me, that goes back to the seventies when we were all about empowering women with sexual knowledge and information. My mission is to create a world in which everyone is valued, all of our differences acknowledged. We’re not scared of looking at anything, we’re not scared of learning about ourselves.