I did not want to read Vagina. This, despite the fact that it was written by my friend and mentor, Naomi Wolf, and despite the fact that I have previously read books called Cunt and Sex For One.
I did not want to read the book because I have been taking a vacation from my vagina. 18 months ago, after a low-risk pregnancy and preparation for a home birth, I gave birth via C-section at a hospital at age 33. The trauma might not be apparent to you, I know. I remain humbly grateful that we are both alive and well. But I had dreams for a natural home birth that died on that operating table. I'd read all the books that promised me that my body was strong, built to birth, even capable of pleasure in the process. When birth rerouted through my abdomen instead of my vagina, I felt like a failure, flawed, broken in some essential way. Mixed with postpartum hormones, I consigned my grief to my vagina, which I vigorously ignored.
Then, Wolf's book arrived. Resistant, I opened it, and met a woman making her way, clumsily but earnestly, through the fertile darkness that still surrounds female sexuality. She uses her body's story as an entry into an examination of the power that has been taken from women throughout history -- namely, the vital life force that comes from the pelvic neural network connecting women's brains to their vaginas.
Critics have raised questions about Wolf's possible oversimplification of scientific research, including the roles of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in female sexual response. As with any book claiming scientific expertise, readers should think critically. The subtitle is "A New Biography"; like any biography, the author's perspective will necessarily color the narrative.
Wolf's over-enthusiasm can be forgiven because even with this new research, no name exists for a woman's fully embodied self -- not just her mind, body, or soul, but the whole woman, the whole neurobiological, sensual, spiritual experience of living as a woman in this world, in all its unique manifestations.
Every person in our Western culture, regardless of their gender identity, struggles with the lingering wounds left by the Cartesian Split, that infamous tear in the long-abused fabric of the connected body and mind. But the bodies of women are too often the places where these scars show themselves most vividly -- in self-abuse, the pursuit of unattainable beauty standards, eating disorders, judgment or hatred of other women's bodies for behaving out of line.
Some of Wolf's language is admittedly clumsy; "The Goddess Array" evokes antennas sprawling across the Plains of San Agustin more than what we currently call "foreplay."
But perhaps radio astronomy is an apt metaphor. Regena Thomashauer, founder of Mama Gena's School of the Womanly Arts, asserts that women's desires, sourced in what she calls the "Pussy," connect us to that which is larger than us. For you, this may be God, a larger community of women, or passion for peace, human rights, or planetary health. Maybe our vaginas link not only to our own brains, but also to the larger longings of humanity.
Ridiculous? Can female sexuality matter in a world of violent protests, suicide bombers, terror? Perhaps one white, upper-middle-class woman's perspective of the vagina is not worth all this attention. It's possible. Not everyone can afford spinal surgery to recover transcendent orgasmic ability; I'm still paying off medical debt from my unexpected hospital birth. Wolf may risk reputation and book sales by telling her story, but countless uncelebrated women have risked their lives by defending their female bodies against hostility. Does this make Wolf's vagina more important, more authoritative?
No, but it does make her a lightning rod for these stories. The work is not yet finished. With a politician still in power who claims outrageous lies about our vaginas and "legitimate rape," the more vaginas we hear about, the better. Wolf's vagina has a book, but there are countless vaginal stories that will be told instead by legislation that creates impossible pregnancies two weeks before conception, that guarantees they will not have access to appropriate preventative medical care. Whose stories will be told only by the violence inflicted upon them.
It is not for me to say what happens when a woman in Libya, Chile, New Zealand, claims her body as her own. But I assure you the people around her will know, and their lives will be better for it.
Whether you offer your vagina a monologue, cover it in rhinestones, or simply give it a second chance, it deserves a riot. Your source of sexuality and immense physical power deserves all the noise you can muster.
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