It was a full house for Dr. Jen Gunter at my local performing arts centre last night. The well-known OB/GYN, writer, and host of CBC’s Jensplaining was in town to promote her book The Vagina Bible. The audience, as expected, was 99.9% female and she had us hooked from the second she walked on stage. Lots of F-bombs and references to patriarchy followed in a talk that was full of laughs but also very serious. (And, not for nothing, the moderator, Annette Hamm from Hamilton’s CHCH TV, was excellent. It was her questions and asides that made this a vagina “dialogue” more so than a “monologue.”)
I usually bring a notebook to these things but had a lot going on before this event and completely forgot. Luckily, audience members were given cards to write questions for the Q&A session that followed the talk. I used my card not for a question, but to record key moments from Dr. Gunter’s discussion. Here are the things I deemed important enough to scribble down in my limited space. (Clever/important phrases are in bold.)
- Far too many women are in the dark about their own bodies, through no fault of their own. Dr. Gunter noted that part of her inspiration for writing The Vagina Bible was the number of patients who, when she answered their sexual health questions, would say “How did I not know that?” She decided women needed a textbook about the vagina and vulva and all the various things that happen to these body parts throughout a woman’s life.
- Dr. Gunter detests euphemisms like “down there” and “lady parts,” and noted that using the right names is one of the “first acts of feminism.” Euphemisms imply that the vagina and vulva are something to be ashamed of, and she is having none of that.
- She talked a lot about how the patriarchy benefits from women feeling shame about their body parts, odours, hair, and menstruation. Women feel dirty, diminished, and too timid to discuss their health, which perpetuates a “penis-centric view of female sexuality.” (A quote from her book, on page 6. I didn’t manage to record the actual words from her talk on this point.)
- She wants drug stores to stop using the term “feminine hygiene products,” with all its implications that menstruation is gross or dirty, and start using the term “menstrual products.” She also joked that women should engage in “craftivism” and storm drug stores with stickers to cover signs that say “feminine hygiene.” (She and the moderator also noted at this point that there are no “ball cleaning” products for men. Lots of laughs at that.)
- When asked directly about Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop and its promotion of vaginal steaming, Dr. Gunter did not hold back. She said practices like vaginal steaming and jade eggs are predatory toward women because they buy into the patriarchal notion that a vagina is dirty and in need of cleansing. They can also be dangerous to vaginal health. Takeaway quote: the vagina is a “self-cleaning oven.”
- She called goop the “couture of snake oil” and noted that while its products are beyond the budget of most people, their influence has led to knockoffs, like a vaginal steaming kit available on Amazon.
- Dr. Gunter also talked about “illusory truth” or the notion that people often mistake repetition for accuracy. For example, if you see enough references to jade eggs, you may start to believe there is something of value there. In other words, don’t be swayed by the frequency of product mentions; do your research or ask your doctor.
- Vaginal rejuvenation is a nonsense term, not based in medical science.
- During the Q&A there was a question about “female Viagra.” Dr. Gunter began her answer by talking about the incredible misunderstanding of female libido, noting that for most women, libido “problems” are not physical. Rather, they are rooted in relationship problems, i.e. maybe a woman would be in the mood if she didn’t have to work, do all the child care, and all the housework. She also talked about “spontaneous libido,” the very “male-centric view” that assumes a “specific, preset sex drive.” (Again quoting from her book, p. 31) Most women don’t have a high spontaneous libido, but have more of a “responsive libido” which means that desire comes after arousal. And no pill can help with any of that. She did mention estrogen creams that may benefit some women, but her bottom line on any product claiming to boost a woman’s libido is “Buyer beware.”
These excerpts from her chat give you some idea of what’s in her book. So far I’ve read the first chapters on basic anatomy and, although I consider myself very well-informed about my body, I learned a lot. Like Dr. Gunter’s patients, I found myself saying more than once, “How did I not know that?”
I think I’ll jump ahead to the section on menopause, another subject that isn’t talked about enough, and one that Dr. Gunter will cover in more detail in her next book, The Menopause Manifesto. Can’t wait to read that one, although it may arrive a little too late for me.