Calgary

Vagina, vagina, vagina: Dr. Jen Gunter wants to break language taboos and myths about women's health

Dr. Jen Gunter talks openly and honestly about things that make the patriarchy cringe and she’s just getting started.

She says female anatomy has been weaponized and that needs to end now

Dr. Jen Gunter busts vaginal myths 8:10

She talks openly and honestly about things that make the patriarchy cringe and she's just getting started.

Dr. Jen Gunter is a gynecologist, an author, host of the new sex and science digital series Jensplaining, and a Twitter influencer, with just shy of a quarter of a million followers, and she's throwing science like holy water on some of the wellness fake news that's out there.

To begin with, she says, we need to get past discomfort with the female body, by finding comfort with words like vagina, vulva, clitoris, and — hang onto your clutching pearls — orgasm.

"A lot of men don't appreciate that," she told CBC Calgary News at 6.

"They don't get how much women's bodies have been weaponized against us, in every aspect, since the beginning of time."

Ready for conversations

Gunter says, it's time to talk.

"Women are very ready to have these conversations. I know they have been simmering, waiting to have this."

And, discomfort around the topics is grounded in bigger issues.

"The way we describe the vulva, medically, it's an older term although we still use it, it's called pudendum, it's derived from the Latin term pudery, which is, to shame. The word is literally derived from shame," Gunter said.

"So when I say we have been steeped in shame about these body parts since the beginning, I am not kidding. We really have."

And that shame starts early, she says, of the myth she most wants to douse.

"The uterus is filled with toxins. That is a core tenet of patriarchy," Gunter said.

"That once a girl starts menstruating, they get excluded from society. In some cultures they are not allowed to go in the kitchen. They are dirty. It's shameful. There is period poverty. It I could get rid of one myth, it would be that. Menstrual blood is probably the healthiest blood we have."

Gunter says layers of the wellness industry, have a motivation.

"You can't get reliably information from somebody that is selling you something," she said.

The industry exists for a bunch of reasons. Medicine creates gaps when doctors are uncomfortable discussing issues, she said, and some wellness people use science-sounding terms and make magical claims, and then there is fake news.

"Wellness has profited from the illusory truth effect, where we almost take repetition for accuracy. It's permeated into social media and you see these headlines over and over and over, so you think there must be something to it, when really there is nothing to it. It's just a lie."

A writer, editor, and work-at-home father says female anatomy is an important conversation and it should start early.

"If you are a dude, you might be wondering just what a vulva is. And how, say, it's different from a vagina and a woman's many other physiological networks," Rob Thomas wrote in a column for CBC news.

"My two sons were fascinated with this distinction. My daughter, not so much. She liked the v-word she was more familiar with a heck of a lot more."

Just next month a museum opens in London, dedicated to myth-busting in this area.

"Well, what I'm hoping is to really destigmatize this part of the body," Vagina Museum founder Florence Schechter told As it Happens recently.

"It's a really taboo topic — and that has lots of real-world consequences. You know, like people being too embarrassed to go to get their cervical smears, and people not being able to talk to their doctors."

No vinegar please

Meanwhile, Gunter says some persistent myths should be addressed about the vagina.

  • Don't put vinegar in it because good bacteria controls the pH balance.
  • Sex does not need to stop after menopause but you might need lube.
  • Magnets near it won't prevent hot flashes.

So where is a good place to start when seeking accurate, science-based information?

"Think about medical professional societies, so the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), they have a wonderful website."

And of course, there's Gunter's boon on the topic, The Vagina Bible, and her new series on CBC's streaming service, CBC Gem called Jensplaining.

With files from CBC Calgary News at 6, As It Happens and Rob Thomas