A woman’s soul is in her vagina. That’s what Naomi Wolf intimates in her book Vagina, a New Biography, according to Maria Popova’s review in Brain Pickings’ “The Science of Stress, Orgasm and Creativity: How the Brain and the Vagina Conspire in Consciousness.” The article is a pastiche of excerpts underscoring the salient points: the vagina and brain are interconnected in complex and delicate ways in women, which connection can lead to healthy, happy, sexual experience and overall contentment or, under bad stress, can lead to lasting biological and psycho-emotional changes that debilitate a woman’s ability to experience joy.
To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.
A woman’s “confidence, creativity, and sense of transcendence” is contained in this continuum that is the vagina to the brain, Wolf claims.
Popova explains the essential science behind that brain-vagina connection: the pelvic nerve governs sexual response as it connects the brain to the cervix not in a direct linear way but in a mazy labyrinth. Its construction is unique to each woman so that arousal sources vary from woman to woman. The structure of the male is far more focused and concentric from the central point of direct stimulation points around the penis. As such, sexual intercourse that focuses on male arousal without locating the specific arousal source(s) of the woman will greatly affect her pleasure and her ability to achieve orgasm.
According to Wolf, the autonomic nervous system which controls and contains the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, is key to arousal. Women have the mind-body connection that feed one off the other: women need to be relaxed and in a good mental state to physically experience orgasm and orgasm affects that state, to be relaxed and released.
For women, sexual response involves entering an altered state of consciousness. … In women, the biology of arousal is more delicate than most of us understand, and it depends significantly on this sensitive, magical, slowly calmed, and easily inhibited system.
Emotional security, Popova summarizes, is directly linked to arousal. Stressors such as safety threats whether physical violence or emotional abuse, inhibit the autonomic nervous system, and if prolonged, may cause physiological changes in the vagina, thereby eliminating the ability to experience orgasm or pleasure. It may even lead to symptoms unrelated to sexual pleasure such as vertigo, excessive startle response, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few.
If you sexually stress a woman enough, over time, other parts of her life are likely to go awry; she will have difficulty relaxing in bed eventually, as well as in the classroom or in the office. This in turn will inhibit the dopamine boost she might otherwise receive, which would in turn prevent the release of the chemicals in her brain that otherwise would make her confident, creative, hopeful, focused — and effective, especially relevant if she is competing academically or professionally with you. With this dynamic in mind, the phrase “fuck her up” takes on new meaning.
Wolf describes how a woman can still have a stimulus response during rape but not the blissful response that occurs in the concordance of physical stimulation and mental safety relaxation. In fact, if the threat of violence or other insecurity persists, physiological changes will be permanent, in some cases.
The vagina responds to the sense of female safety, in that circulation expands, including to the vagina, when a woman feels she is safe; but the blood vessels to the vagina constrict when she feels threatened. This may happen before the woman consciously interprets her setting as threatening. So if you continually verbally threaten or demean the vagina in the university or in the workplace, you continually signal to the woman’s brain and body that she is not safe. “Bad” stress is daily raising her heart rate, pumping adrenaline through her system, circulating catecholamines, and so on. This verbal abuse actually makes it more difficult for her to attend to the professional or academic tasks before her.
The concluding remark underscores the conclusion from Wolf’s biography: the respect afforded to woman’s happiness, her way of achieving it, is integrally tied to her biological and emotional health, which is dependent upon not being threatened or treated disrespectfully, that her body, her vagina is not targeted, exploited or mistreated but treasured and valued.
The way in which any given culture treats the vagina — whether with respect or disrespect, caringly or disparagingly — is a metaphor for how women in general in that place and time are treated.