Cross Country Checkup·Ask Me Anything

Gynecologist Jen Gunter wants you to talk accurately about your body

Dr. Jen Gunter, ob-gyn and author of The Vagina Bible, took calls from Cross Country Checkup listeners on the future of pseudoscience, perimenopause and why you shouldn't mince words with kids.

The ob-gyn and author says euphemisms for the human body breed shame

Ob/gyn Dr. Jen Gunter took calls about women's health and medical misinformation on Cross Country Checkup. (CBC)

Each week, Cross Country Checkup devotes the last half hour to an interview with a high-profile newsmaker, celebrity, thinker or cultural figure who takes calls from listeners.

Gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter has a "vagenda" to dispel myths around women's sexual health and bodies, and combat misinformation online.

The Canadian-born ob-gyn, who has been called Twitter's resident gynecologist after using the platform to criticize pseudoscientific wellness trends, answered questions Sunday during an Ask Me Anything segment on Cross Country Checkup.

"I had a personal tragedy when I was pregnant … and I, myself, got sucked into snake oil online," Gunter told Checkup host Duncan McCue.

"I am the first to admit that medicine has done women a disservice for a long time, for many, many reasons. But alternative medicine and wellness are exploiting those gaps."

Gunter has pushed back against products like vaginal jade eggs and procedures like vaginal steaming that have been popularized by companies like Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop, which she says can be dangerous.

The gynecologist's national bestseller, The Vagina Bible, and CBC Gem docuseries Jensplaining tackle the growing snake oil industry, but also attempts to destigmatize sexual health.

She answers listeners' questions on the future of pseudoscience, perimenopause and why you shouldn't mince words with kids.

Fear and social media fuel pseudoscience

Responding to a question about what medical pseudoscience will look like in the future, Gunter said that in order to combat misinformation, science needs to better understand how to reach people that may be drawn to it out of fear or because it "sounds good."

But the reasons why people choose questionable wellness products and procedures over traditional medicine isn't entirely understood, she says.

"We have to invest some resources in figuring it out, because the end result of wasting money is one thing," she said, "But we also have people who are choosing alkaline diets over cancer therapy and we have people refusing to get vaccinated and people dying from measles."

She also worries about how influencers — those who promote products on platforms like Instagram — reach people on social media.

"You have an influencer who talks about vagina weight lifting, for example, which isn't really a thing," Gunter said.

"She has over 100,000 followers on Instagram and she's had a post that says women shouldn't get cervical cancer screening; that you should trust your body and your cells will tell you when there's a problem."

WATCH: Dr. Jen Gunter talks about influencers and pseudoscience on CBC Gem's Jensplaining:


5 years ago
Duration 12:43

Comments like that, Gunter says, could push women away from procedures like pap smears.

"Facts matter. I want my airplane to fly with facts. I don't want my airplane to fly with pseudoscience."

Libido and perimenopause

When it comes to the effect hormone levels have on libido for women experiencing perimenopause and menopause, Gunter says that there's no one "normal."

"You might need to make sure you don't have a thyroid condition. Make sure you don't have depression. Make sure that there isn't a medical condition that could have an impact for you."

Gunter adds that it's common for women's libido to change throughout their life, and that everyone is different. 

Gunter says that anatomical names for genitalia should always be used in order to destigmatize sexual organs. (CBC)

Speak 'accurately' about body parts

Arming kids with accurate anatomical language helps prevent them from feeling shame over their body, Gunter says. 

"I still have patients who say 'down there' or 'my lady parts' or whatever euphemism that they've grown up using," Gunter told McCue. 

"When you have two and three-year-olds calling their body parts by euphemisms — and they're only using that for their genitalia or their reproductive organs — well, that implies that those organs are shameful."

Answering a question from a father to young children, Gunter says the word vagina is just as appropriate as calling an elbow an elbow.

"You would say rectum. Why wouldn't you say vulva?" she said.

Gunter adds that when young people feel shame, it pushes them to find information in "clandestine" places that may be inaccurate.

"Facts matter, and speaking accurately and factually about your body parts is number one on my 'vagenda.'"

Written by Jason Vermes, produced by Samantha Lui.