Credit: Chloe Jackman Photography
Credit: Chloe Jackman Photography
Dr. Jen Gunter Wants to Demystify The Vagina
With her new book, 'The Vagina Bible,' and a forthcoming DAME column, the OB-GYN aims to mainstream comprehensive health and sex education.
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Jen Gunter, M.D. has been called everything from “Goop’s Number-One Enemy” to “Twitter’s resident gynecologist.” Whatever you call her, the board-certified OB-GYN told DAME that she wants her tombstone to read “Jen Gunter proved to the world that vaginas and vulvas are not dirty and do not need to be prepped for men.”
If that happens, she says, “I would die a happy woman.”
She’s already on track to getting her wish: On Aug. 27, Gunter published The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina—Separating the Myth from the Medicine. “It’s primarily an accessible medical textbook,” Gunter explains on a phone call from her book tour. “I wanted people to have a textbook about the vulva and vagina that they could use, but… if I wrote like a regular textbook, everybody would be snoozing on the second page.”
No one will nod off while reading The Vagina Bible: It’s written in the same smart, funny voice as her 217,000-follower-strong Twitter feed. The California-based Gunter, who is also a new columnist for DAME, weighs in on everything from diagnosing persistent itches and fishy odors to debunking the junk science and scammy, patriarchal hogwash that plague the mainstream narrative of the modern vagina: Goop-endorsed jade eggs, “feminine washes” and cosmetic procedures for vaginal “rejuvenation.”
Of course, many of the subjects fall under the category of Things We Should Have Learned In Health Class, But Didn’t — there are chapters on menstrual hygiene, Kegel exercises, STIs, menopause, transgender health and conditions like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. These are questions she fields every single day from patients. “I’ve been spending almost 30 years listening to women,” Gunter says. “I’ve been paying attention to what they’ve been telling me and I just couldn’t be quiet any longer.”
DAME: Who did you write The Vagina Bible for?
Dr. Jen Gunter: Obviously, the target audience is people with vaginas, but everybody who knows someone with a vagina, or loves someone with a vagina and vulva, could benefit from it. I think that if you’re a heterosexual man partnered with a heterosexual woman, it might be useful for you to know where all the pleasure spots are. It might be useful for you to know how she faces all these societal pressures. It might be useful if she’s got a health problem and you say, ‘Hey, I read in this book…’ If you’re a dad with a daughter, don’t you want to know about all the predatory marketing that she might face? … The book is really for everyone, because there is so much societal misinformation about the vagina and vulva.
DAME: What’s some of the worst misinformation that you see everywhere and that’s particularly harmful?
Dr. Gunter: We still are facing this idea that vaginas need to be cleaned and vulvas needs to be prepped. Like, why are intimate wipes sold to women, but not to men? They have rectums! Doesn’t it get dirty behind the scrotum? I don’t understand that. So clearly these products are based on the age-old myth that a woman’s reproductive tract is dirty and that is the core tenant of the patriarchy.
DAME: Obviously, a big part of the problem is the inadequate sexual education in this country.
Dr. Gunter: Oh, yeah. I hear that a lot — ‘I learned nothing,’ “I went to a Catholic school’ or ‘nobody told me anything,’ ‘I had no idea that the clitoris is this big.’ ‘I had no idea this, I had no idea that.’
DAME: Do you think this is a good book to give to college-age people with a vagina or teenage people with a vagina?
Dr. Gunter: Obviously I’m biased, because I wrote the book, but I could see this as a core curriculum — or chapters of it, anyway! … But information only helps people and women have been kept from good information about their reproductive tract. [And so have] people who are trans and gender non-binary — they are excluded from many aspects. They are often treated horribly in the doctor’s office. I’m just so ashamed to know that that happens. And that’s one of the reasons why I included the chapter on trans health, but put it right up front to show that it’s really important that people get the healthcare they need and people get the information they need.
DAME: A demoralizing thing that happened is that your book publisher, Kensington Books, was initially not able to use the word “vagina” when promoting tweets about the book on Twitter
We aren’t allowed to say the name of this book in the ad, but trust us you want it! https://t.co/71nkbWs8zP pic.twitter.com/SEqDIT9lG0
— Kensington Books (@KensingtonBooks) August 27, 2019
According to AdWeek, the word ran afoul of Twitter’s rules against “vulgar, obscene or distasteful content” in ads that failed to distinguish it as sexual health information. [After media attention this week, the company changed course and said the tweets were eligible for paid promotion after all, according to VICE.]
Dr. Gunter: I can’t believe that Twitter can’t design an algorithm for Twitter ads that can tell the difference between “vagina” for educational terms and for other reasons. I can’t believe that’s impossible. … Like, they could easily give educational companies or book publishers, basically, a verified access. So they would know that ads coming from them are legit. I know nothing about our computers, but I really believe there must be so many simple ways to do it, and the fact that they haven’t bothered to do it means they don’t care, or obviously they don’t have anyone with a vagina in the room who’s making decisions.
DAME: What can we expect from you in the future — including future DAME columns?
Dr. Gunter: If I had said everything I wanted to say, [the book] would be a thousand pages! So if there’s something that’s not in there, it’s just because a book can only be so big … But I have all kinds of things that I didn’t put in the book and many of those are going to become future DAME columns. And they can look for these things also on my blog and other places. … [H]opefully as new, important information comes out, we will update future additions [of The Vagina Bible]. I want this book to be around for a long time.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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