Book Review: Closer


Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality, by Sarah Barmak. 168 pgs, Coach House Books, $14.95

To anyone “who has owned a vulva, a vagina, or a clitoris,” writes Toronto journalist Sarah Barmak, “the fact that anatomy could be the object of so much repression, misinformation and erasure through history is the real mystery to be solved.” Closer, Barmak’s thoroughly captivating and well-researched debut, argues that we live in a time of paradox when it comes to women’s sexuality. On one hand, many report having difficulties during sex, and modern medicine still doesn’t fully understand the complexities of the female body (as revealed in one woman’s heartbreaking story in the second chapter). On the other hand, “this is the wild frontier of women’s sexuality,” she writes, “It is vibrant and strange, riotous and messy, as varied as women themselves.”

Barmak provides a glimpse into contemporary scientific and cultural trends through a combination of interviews, research, and firsthand experience. She talks to researchers who are measuring male and female physiological responses to pornography, conducting fMRI studies on the female brain’s response at orgasm, and using mindfulness-based therapeutic methods to enhance sexual function. She witnesses an orgasmic meditation demonstration at Burning Man, attends a workshop for anorgasmic women at a female-run sex shop, and partakes in a two-and-a-half-hour yoni massage. She approaches these experiences with an open mind and a sense of humour, and is quick to point out that there is no such thing as “one size fits all” model. Importantly, she brings an intersectional framework into her discussion, highlighting some of the ways in which race, ability, size, sexual orientation, and gender identity impact women’s experiences, pleasure-related or otherwise.

Closer is a thought-provoking read. Barmak’s sophisticated journalism and engaging personal anecdotes cover a lot of ground, making this title a must for anyone with a vested interest in women’s sexual health. (Melissa Hergott)


Posts Remaining