Health

How Well Do You Know Your Vagina? – Sarah Olson

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Everything you thought you knew about your vagina may be wrong.

It turns out, the patriarchy has perpetuated quite a few misconceptions about female anatomy and sexuality. Whatever your age is or how well you think you know your body, you are likely in for some surprises when you read Dr. Jen Gunter’s new book, The Vagina Bible (Penguin Random House, Aug 2019).

Women understanding their bodies and how their anatomy works is a form of empowerment, and one the patriarchy has long considered either dangerous or unimportant.

“As there were no female physicians, everything first written about women’s bodies in ancient medical textbooks and taught to the first physicians was what women and midwives passed along to men, who in turn interpreted the information as they saw fit,” Dr. Gunter writes in the first chapter. “So medicine has been steeped in mansplaining from the start.”

Unfortunately, the mansplaining hasn’t ended. On Twitter, Dr. Gunter is often seen correcting men who dare to assert falsehoods about women’s bodies and calling out politicians for publicly stating misconceptions about female anatomy, pregnancy, and abortion. It makes sense that her book makes a significant effort to deconstruct outright falsehoods and urban legends about female anatomy and sexuality.

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For example, many women be may be relieved to learn that the majority of women aren’t able to reach orgasm through solely penetrative penile sex. This myth leaves “two thirds of women believing there is something wrong with their sexual wiring when really they are perfect,” explains Dr. Gunter. “Not orgasming with unassisted penile penetration is not a flaw, it’s a feature.”

Further research also shows that the mythical G-spot located inside the vagina is exactly that — a myth and nothing more. Your clitoris is where the pleasure comes from. Amazingly, it’s also the only body part that exists entirely for the purpose of pleasure. Take that, men.

The patriarchy would have you believe that a penis must satisfy all women and if you lack a special spot that gets you to completion, you’re the one at fault. But good news for heterosexual sex — science tells us that this simply isn’t true.

But The Vagina Bible doesn’t only explore heterosexual sex, nor is it written solely for cis women. Dr. Gunter also walks readers through “Vaginas and Vulvas in Transition”, discussing important health concerns for trans men and trans women. Her inclusive language and efforts to include the trans experience, as well as homosexual sex, helps prevent her book from perpetuating heteronormativity. As a result, she not only widens her readership, but her book provides valuable information for far more people than just cis women.

And what about regular, everyday cleanliness? “It is important to remember that the concept of female cleanliness has largely been driven by a male-dominated society that for centuries, if not longer, has decided normal female genitals and secretions are ‘dirty’,” Dr. Gunter writes. The vulva evolved to handle a variety of things such as blood, semen, feces, and urine. It will function just fine without intensive (or expensive) cleaning, whatever Goop tells you. There are no studies to support vulvar cleansing with anything more than water is beneficial.

Your vagina (remember that the vagina is inside and the vulva is outside) is self cleaning. The bottom line? Don’t douche. Studies show that “vaginal washing with soap increases the risk of HIV transmission by almost four times,” and can “increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Yikes. There’s no reason to wash or wipe inside your vagina, and doing so actually does more harm than good. The truth is, your vagina is doing just fine cleaning itself. If you do notice a funky smell, a strange discharge, or otherwise, go see your doctor — don’t douche. Capitalism and the patriarchy want you to spend money on expensive, harmful products for cleaning your lady parts. The bottom line is, you don’t need to.

I also feel that people should stop being pressured into shaving pubic hair. Obviously this is a personal choice, one that Dr. Gunter explores in depth, and ultimately we cannot stop women from shaving pubic hair if they’re determined to. Thankfully, Dr. Gunter walks through the process of doing this as safely as possible and discusses the many risks involved with pubic hair removal. Most women removed pubic hair because they or their partner prefer it. Other women — myself included — feel staunchly that pubic hair removal perpetuates the idea that the young, hairless female body is a patriarchal ideal, and sexualizes the bodies of prepubescent girls.

Speaking from experience, if a boyfriend is horrified by pubic hair on women and demands or coerces you into hair removal, they really are not worth your time. I’m serious — save yourself the headache and move on. Pubic hair removal comes with serious risks, and any partner who insists you do it isn’t being mindful of your safety and well-being. You deserve someone who accepts your beautiful, wild, natural state. If pubic hair was gross or dirty or unnatural, we would not have evolved it. And unlike the hair on your head, it doesn’t just keep growing.

That’s good enough for me. If it’s not good enough for you, Dr. Gunter has suggestions for carefully and safely (for the most part) removing and trimming pubic hair.

There are several reasons Dr. Gunter’s book should be a staple on women’s shelves.

First, I think it’s important to understand the terminology around female anatomy. Knowing which words to use in regards to your lady parts is a form of empowerment, especially when you know what to specifically say to or ask your doctor. I also find Dr. Gunter’s mix of medical terminology and big sister tone to be both comforting and confident. She just wants the best for you, and she’s going to tell it to you straight.

The Vagina Bible is enjoyable to sit down and read all the way through, but it’s also excellent reference material. For example, the information on menopause isn’t exactly relevant to me yet, but I’m glad I could review it and can reference it in the future. Additionally, Dr. Gunter walks readers through various syndromes and diseases, helping you make sense of symptoms and learn how to prevent, treat, and get help for a variety of common ailments. It’s all good to know.

At the end of each chapter, she includes “Bottom Line” boxes where you can get the most important bullet points succinctly summarized. I appreciated this because it helps you review essential content after you’re done with each chapter, and lists fast facts and general points she makes. In addition, Dr. Gunter also includes a very helpful guide to what she would remove from your bathroom, how to search health topics on the internet, and a old wive’s tales of vaginal myths.

By the time you’ve finished this book, you’ll be an expert on your body. Is there anything else I could say to assure you that it’s worth it? As the proud owner of a vagina, I understand the power that comes with knowing how to care for my body. As Dr. Gunter puts it, “You can’t be an empowered patient and get the health outcomes you want with inaccurate information and half-truths.”

I’m of the opinion that the patriarchy is pitted against women and trans people understanding their bodies, their health, and their sexuality. Reading this book takes you that much closer toward becoming truly empowered. It’s time to get on board with Dr. Jennifer Gunter’s feminist vagenda— after all, you’re the one who benefits from it!



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