Eric Amaranth’s Thoughts On and Critique of the Book, “The Female Brain”
I just finished reading Dr. Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, and in this post, I’ll focus mainly on her section about female sexual response and orgasm. The preceding chapters were interesting. They detailed girlhood and teen behaviors as heavily influenced, according to Dr. Brizendine, by the hormone fluctuations of the brain. The other chapters on interesting menopausal behavioral info. She goes into the male side as well. First, some points I agreed with.
I fully support the purpose for writing this book which was to show us that if we aren’t aware of it, hormonal effects combined with brain structural differences in a given gender could be causing someone to behave in certain ways and through knowing this, quote, “we can prevent it from creating a fixed reality by which we are ruled.” This is possible through what separates us, in my view, from animals: even primates and dolphins cannot utilize their “intelligence and determination” to not be slaves to their brain structure and hormones. The sex urge doesn’t have to begin and end as a mere itch to be scratched and a carrot on a string for the continuation of the species. It can do much more for us.
This is a uniquely human capability. This holds true whether someone is a strict description of what this book defines as male or female, or a person who possesses traits from both sides. I place more stock in people lying along a spectrum than fully one side or the other. Per this, the extent to which Dr. Brizendine’s claims are accurate for every given individual, that’s something else entirely. However, more possibilities for behavior can be better than fewer.
I agree with Dr. Brizendine’s highlighting of the fact that viagra alone does not solve the issues of FSD. Bringing more blood to the genitals can make the itch more palatable to scratch, but if the right hormones aren’t in place, lubrication and orgasm can still be difficult. Not to mention (and they hardly ever do) the level of sexual sophistication/skill available in a given person’s sex life be it solo or partnered. She also makes it clear that the medical establishment has no listing in their texts for clitoral anatomy but three pages or more for the penis.
I absolutely applauded Dr. Brizendine when she made this statement:
“My patients complain that it has been hard for them to find a doctor who is knowledgeable about the female sexual response…. To this day, most medical schools don’t teach a required course in female sexual response. Even gynecologists… have few answers for women with sexual problems…. Psychiatrists and couples’ therapists can be equally ill-equipped to offer help. They tend to see the problem as all in the head….”
Dr. Brizendine’s context here is postmenopausal women, but the aforementioned issue also applies to women in their sexual prime too, in my view. While I do acknowledge that there can be problems stemming from the mind and past abuse, etc, what female sexual response means here is the successful and replicable methodology a woman can rely on for getting the most out of her potential for sexual pleasure. That very often has also to do with her accessing her body’s abilities for pleasurable sensation, which as we are all well aware of is attacked and demonized by certain special interest groups.
I also liked Dr. Brizendine’s support of breastfeeding and her point outs of how it can be a calming and positive thing for both mother and baby. She got into the specifics of this, which is needed in our current culture that has lost its comfort with breastfeeding.
Now, what I disagreed with. Some points more fervently than others.
To start with, there was a fair amount of the use of the word, “may.” Scientists and other researchers will put forth a theory on a subject and use the word, “may,” and synonyms of that word, in the sentence with their explanation of why something is the way it is. The problem is, when most people read assertions, they don’t pay attention to the word “may”, which means that the theory could be less than totally accurate. People are speedy and read “may” more often as “is”, as in, without a doubt. I’ve seen this before in how people relay information they’ve learned and I’ve caught myself hearing statements based in possibility and remembering them later as hard facts. Be aware of this as you read her book and any other book for that matter.
I finished the sex sections and while the assertions were based around the clitoris as the primary erogenous zone, I have points of disagreement with Dr. Brizendine’s understanding of female orgasm and female sexual neurology. Put another way, some of the science data from other scientific research sources I subscribe to is different from hers. For instance, she sides with the science people who believe that the uterus sucks sperm (but not semen?) up into the uterus through the cervical mucosal plug.
Last I heard, there are two camps of scientists: one that believe in the ability of the uterus to vacuum up sperm (assuming the plug is not present due to ovulation) and another camp that states the uterus is incapable of suction because there is no way to provide suction housed in this organ. Dr. Brizendine’s data used to support this is an anecdote of a doctor claiming a female patient of his reported that a condom was stuck inside her cervical oz upon examination after her orgasm. Did she go to the doctor with it stuck inside? Was this what she reported to her doc?
Brizendine goes on to site research on another subject: male physique and facial attractiveness as the primary determination of a woman’s success with orgasm during intercourse. This, according to a particular group of scientists, is a woman’s body’s way of improving the odds of fertilization with a symmetrical i.e. attractive and therefore genetically superior male (mentally unstable attractive men not withstanding, I suppose). However, this information conflicted with a third scientist’s findings that she also included in her book: women throughout the world’s cultures women are concerned less with a man’s looks and more so on his emotional stability and access to financial resources when selecting the most suitable male for child rearing. You can’t have it both ways, doctor. Which theory is correct?
I’d also like a show of hands from the ladies on how many times they slept with a very attractive man and didn’t have an orgasm from it. This reminds me of an anecdote that my mentor, Betty Dodson, has in her memoir about the first time she received oral sex from a man. He was not an attractive man by her standards, but what he did have was awesome sexual skills. Betty’s orgasm was loud and proud, so she said, and she gave a big kiss to the less than attractive stud. Dr. Brizendine claims that when a woman isn’t attracted to a man, the clitoris and orgasm possibility shuts off. Add to that her support of theories that claim male attractiveness is the single most important factor in a woman’s orgasmic success due to evolutionary advantage. It’s not that simple, doctor.
I’ll also mention that Dr. Brizendine says that the clitoris is not a tiny penis. Well, according to another group of scientists, it is. Their findings indicate that in-utero, all babies start out “female” then if it is an XY fetus, development shifts in that direction, which Brizendine references in her book. According to these scientists, the same neurological structure and enervation in the fetus’s clitoris transforms into a penis glans in a boy or remains a clitoris in a girl. If they are correct, then the clitoral orgasm’s sensations are possibly very like the sensations experienced in the male penile orgasm. The Female Brain was printed in 2006. Maybe this research had not been released yet.
This brings me to a very important point when evaluating the results of scientific researchers and how they influence your beliefs about what is and isn’t. Many times a given scientific body or community will agree on something. Many times they do not. Never forget this when you turn to science for answers. I like science, I’m not saying to ignore it. Science can be exact and perfect and it can also be controversial or worse, trumped up for other motives.
Like I said, the clitoris is given credit in the book as the nexus of female orgasm, which is a step in a good direction, but not the whole story. Dr. Brizendine claims that what amounts to the outer third of the vagina, which is called by women in her circle of experience, “the ring of fire”, is what is primarily responsible for orgasm in addition to direct rubbing or other stimulation of the clitoris. She states:
“…the vagina is connected to the clitoris, and therefore the female orgasm is all from this one organ.”
Here is my position: the vagina is not connected to the clitoris. More on that later. Her explanation is a gross oversimplification that has been within the past decade adopted by the neurology and psychology community after they opted to move away from distinctions between no clitoral orgasm, G spot orgasm, or any other type. That female orgasm is indistinct and comes from somewhere via stimulation of the female sex organs.
This is like saying the best directions to drive from N.Y.C to L.A. is get on a road and drive west. This is the first time I’ve ever seen or heard of a scientific community getting less specific as they go along instead of more specific. If the ring of fire (known in the academic community as the orgasmic platform) was a consistently effective “platform” for female orgasm in the majority of women per their implications, both the scientific and non-scientific sex therapy/coaching/education communities would see ample evidence across the findings of all professionals involved and agree. That has yet to happen.
I assert that the current academic science assertion is both false and worse, detracts from, instead of contributing to, our understanding of the most commonly effective ways to bring about female orgasms through physical sexual stimulation. Furthermore, this explanation deprives the reader of knowledge instead of providing the specific details needed to make the most out of a woman’s orgasmic potential, and by association, the potential for a rewarding sex life for those who love having sex with women. This is another key difference between many psychology-based sex therapists and my brand of sex life coaching.
Female orgasms can be, in my consistent findings and the findings of other colleagues of mine, distinct/different from each other produced only by a given form of stimulation of specific points within the vagina and/or via different forms of clitoral stimulation, which can also produce consistently different and distinct clitoral orgasms as well depending on the individual woman. I’ve said in my videos that clitoral and G spot orgasms can be layered to go off simultaneously (and also sequentially.) A woman’s bum is also capable of orgasm or contributory to orgasm via stimulation of the rectum and lower bowel enervated by the pelvic nerve, which Dr. Brizendine omitted. I’ve never seen a scientist issue a theory for the evolutionary purpose for the anal orgasm in women, and men for that matter. I realize I may be waiting a long time for that one. But I digress…
In Brizendine’s description of how female orgasm occurs during intercourse, she plots out:
“…And as she grew more excited while he rubbed her clitoris, her brain areas for worries and fear–the amygdala–would deactivate into a calm blue. As she became more excited and pulled him inside her, the amygdala would completely deactivate and the pleasure centers would pulse red until… rapid, pulsing waves of orgasm flooded her brain and body.”
Dr. Brizendine’s description does not indicate if whether or not the proposed couple in her example continued direct rubbing of the woman’s clitoris after coitus begins. We have to assume her “pulling him inside her” is his penis because it could be his finger. Was he rubbing her clitoris with the head of the penis? If so, I applaud for him on sexual skills and creativity, but again, not indicated. Not specific. Not explained.
The implication as I read it is the old information that academia has clung to for too long from Helen Singer Kaplan’s information: that direct manual stimulation of the clitoris up to high arousal which is then stopped and replaced with penile vaginal thrusting alone is effective for the physical side of triggering female orgasm due to the “ring of fire” theory.
In my and my mentor’s experience, the “ring of fire” is not effective as a consistent point of physical stimulation for female orgasm in the vast majority of women. In my mentor’s words, “Why would you suddenly stop direct clitoral stim? Would a man be silent and take it if a woman were to suddenly stop giving him oral sex on his penis and start penetrating his a** and then expect him to orgasm from it?” Men certainly would not be silent according to Dr. Brizendine’s research. But also, according to that same research, women would stay quiet and take it to keep the peace.
Yes, why would you stop direct clitoral stim? In this case: uninformed male ego ignorant of female sexual response. For a man who, for whatever reason, must believe that his mighty penis alone is the only source of her orgasm. Dr. Brizendine references stone age thought throughout her book. This is definitely stone age thought: male ego standing firmly and blindly in the way of the self-actualization of female sexual potential.
The tragedy is, too many psychologists are still guiding clients in their practices so that male ego and lack of sexual sophistication in men is defended at the expense of a woman’s sex life, orgasm ease, strength, frequency, and overall potential. Yes, penile stimulation can trigger female orgasm, but it is not from generalized friction or pressure stimulation in the vast majority of women. There are more specifics involved if a woman is to orgasm in this way.
It is amazing to me that psychologists will be up for the task of sitting alone in a room with the criminally insane, but most still cower from the common, everyday, male sexual ego. The uninformed male sexual ego is one of the most common sources of stagnation in a sex life that includes a man, which costs him time and pleasure too, but I see progress out there and more men are looking hard at the damage their egoes can do to their lives.
Back to neurological wiring: what I tell my clients is, on a neurological level, it is not true that all erogenous zones are connected to the clitoris “tip” with a mainline to the brain, as Dr. Brizendine states. It is that the external genital nerve or pudendal nerve and the pelvic nerve (both branch off from the spinal cord) branches out to and connects to various orgasm-inducing nerve plexus zones and erectile tissue structures that includes the clitoris, G spot, and more.
In conclusion, while I do think this book is worth reading, could help people understand what the brain and hormones are doing to how they feel and their behavior, I must be frank. In the arena of female sexuality, one could logically expect more from a professional who is, according to the book’s back jacket, a neuropsychologist “previously on faculty at the Harvard Medical School and is a graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine, and U. of CA, Berkeley, in neurobiology.” This statement is to make clear to the reader that credentials from the highest levels of medicine do not, at present, grant you a sophisticated understanding of female sexual function and orgasm. The Female Brain was published in twenty-six different countries and is on the New York Times bestseller list. That’s great in many respects, but if the information about female sexuality contained in it is underdeveloped, and goes out to that many women and men, then it’s my job as a sex life coach to point out its shortcomings as well as its strengths.
Tags: anal orgasm, Betty Dodson, big orgasm, breastfeeding, clitoral orgasm, couples, couples therapy, female brain, female sexual response, g spot orgasm, hormones, male brain, orgasm, sex, sex therapist, sex therapy, women