The Vagina Chronicles

The modern history of female sexuality has been plagued with misinformation, embarrassment, and sexual frustration. And that is no less true today than it was before a sexual revolution that failed to liberate women's sexuality.

NEW YORK – Has there really been a sexual revolution? One of the themes that I explore in my new book, Vagina: A New Biography, is that the West’s supposedly sexually liberated societies, in which sexual images and content are available everywhere, have not really been all that liberating for women. Many of the reactions to my book tend to confirm that belief.

Many responses were positive: the book is Publishers Weekly’s top science book of the fall. But the tone of some of the criticism – from “mystic woo-woo about the froo froo” to “bad news for everybody who has one” – suggests that even a culture in which millions of women are devouring a novel about sadomasochism, Fifty Shades of Grey, still has problems discussing women’s sexuality in a positive, empowering way.

We need to have that conversation. Around the world, many women are targeted because of their sexuality: they are genitally mutilated, married off as children, raped with impunity, stoned for “fornication” and other sexual offenses, and told that their desire makes them sinful and worthy of abuse. Natasha Walter, who works with refugee women in London, reports that most of the persecution they are fleeing is sexual – and that the law does not validate the grounds for their asylum applications. Our societies do not take seriously women’s sexual integrity or crimes against it.

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