In person, Dr. Jen Gunter is exactly what you’d hope she’d be: the living, breathing version of her new bestseller, The Vagina Bible. Unlike many authors whose bold ideas seem opposite to their shy and introverted personalities, Dr. Gunter is fierce and bold. She pulls no punches about why she wrote The Vagina Bible and how she wants it to help women become empowered by their bodies.
I’ve seen Dr. Gunter referred to as “Twitter’s favourite gynecologist” because of her social media savvy and the way she uses the internet to call out misinformation and outright lies. But reducing her to just that is a mistake because it makes her sound like a one-trick pony, an unqualified expert or an influencer among an ocean of people trying to make a name for themselves by taking on celebrities and being intentionally controversial.
And Dr. Gunter is anything but one-dimensional.
In The Vagina Bible (now in its fifth printing in Canada and working its way up the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists), Dr. Gunter dedicates herself to dispelling myths about the female anatomy and sexuality and to breaking down misnomers that, pardon the pun, stem from long-standing beliefs that the penis is the king of the jungle and the only thing that matters when it comes to sex and sexual pleasure.
She wants us to stop using euphemisms for sex, body parts, even periods (“call it what is,” she says “a menstrual period”), and she wants us to consider ditching partners who think vaginas and periods are “gross.”
It’s her vagenda and she’s sticking to it.
But should we buy what she’s selling? Should we accept, or at least consider, that so much of what we think we know about our bodies is wrong?
To put it simply, yes. Yes, we should, because Dr. Gunter has done the hard work for us. She’s got the medical degree, personal experience, twenty-five years in clinical practice as an OB-GYN, a regular column in the New York Times and, perhaps most importantly, the balls to call bullshit on the patriarchy and the so-called “wellness” industry. She’s got the facts and the motivation and she’s using them to take a battering ram to everything women have been taught to believe about themselves that is factually inaccurate, cruelly misogynistic, and meant to keep us from gaining true equality.
Dr. Gunter wants us to start talking – to each other, to our Doctors, to our children.
“We’re unaware that we can talk about these things”, she says. “We’ve never been taught that sex and vaginas aren’t ‘dirty’ and that we can talk about them openly.” Proof-positive that vagina talk isn’t quite socially acceptable, even in 2019, is the fact that Twitter does not allow Dr. Gunter or her publishers to use the word ‘vagina’ when buying ads to promote the book on its platform. This is despite the fact ‘vagina’ is a) in the book’s actual title, b) a real-life body part and c) not a euphemism. You can say penis all day long, apparently, but ‘vagina’ is a dirty word.
And doesn’t that just say it all? “The fact you can’t say ‘vagina’, the actual name of a body part, on Twitter, is proof this book needs to exist,” says Dr. Gunter, shaking her head. “We really need to be talking about this stuff.”
When considering everything from the newest “wellness” trend (like GOOP-endorsed vagina steaming and jade yoni eggs) to age-old myths that women are unclean when they menstruate, Dr. Gunter asks herself “Who does this serve?” In her book and throughout our conversation, she cites several examples of myths and misnomers about vaginas, menstruation, post-baby bodies and sex, such as:
Vaginas are “smelly”.
Vaginas must be cleaned/steamed/douched and/or properly landscaped to be attractive.
Menstruation is gross and shameful.
Women should want sex soon after birthing children and if they don’t there’s something wrong with them.
That any age-related changes or wear and tear on our bodies is contrary to the modern beauty ideal.
Of all the things she’s most passionate about, Dr. Gunter considers the patriarchy’s attempt to “weaponize” and shame women for having their periods to be the most galling. “Everyone needs to care about menstruation”, she says. “Everyone. Reproduction benefits us all. If women don’t menstruate there are no more people being born and the planet dies out.”
When I wait for her to continue, to maybe soften or couch this statement a little, she just looks at me as if to say Yup, that’s really all there is to it. What more proof do you need? Periods equal life, get over it.
On post-baby bodies and post-baby sex, Dr. Gunter has a lot to say.
As the mother of twins born by C-Section, she has first-hand knowledge of how our bodies and libidos can change after a human has exited them. And the changes aren’t just physical. What’s going on in our minds, our sleep patterns and our mental health can have a huge impact on our sex drives.
“People come in all shapes and sizes so of course libidos come in all shapes and sizes too. I want women to know when to ask for help but also to have realistic expectations. The patriarchy wants us to be horny all the time but when a human comes out of your body there are going to be changes, physical and otherwise.”
Even gay men who adopt children together cite a lower sex drive, she says. Because, parenting. Which is proof positive that the mind-body connection cannot be ignored, and that there’s much more going on in our postpartum bodies than stitches and puffy bellies.
As for the penis, Dr. Gunter’s message for the member is this: you need to calm down.
This message is not about hating men or hating penises, as some trolls and skeptics (ie. those threatened by her message) would like to believe. Taking the penis down a notch is about right-sizing and equalizing the myths about bodies and sexuality that have been oppressing women since the beginning of time. Because until we deal with that, true equality will be beyond our reach. Until we accept that menstruation is a non-voluntary body function that is not shameful or gross, women will always be considered inferior because of it.
Men also have a role in helping women shed the shame they’ve been taught to feel about sex and bodies and to normalize conversations in their own relationships about what women want and how to please them, sexually and otherwise.
“I know lots of men who are allies, who can’t believe the stuff women have to deal with from men. Other men can help women by listening,” says Gunter, “and by not pooh-poohing our concerns. Unfortunately, the bar is on the ground for most men. And it’s time to hold them accountable.”
Dr. Gunter also wants you to know there is probably nothing “wrong” with your vagina, and that what really matters when it comes to sex is that you were at the party and had what you consider to be a good time. “I want women to be having the kind of sex they want to have, whatever that looks like.”
Although it does a stellar job of covering vagina-related topics, including underwear, lubricant, hair removal, cleaning products, sexually transmitted infections and the clitoris, Dr. Gunter’s book isn’t just about that part of our anatomy. In fact, the only requirement for readers is not even that they have one, it’s that they’re, as Gunter says, “vagina adjacent” because when it comes right down to it, this is a book about women and female empowerment. It’s a book that uses vaginas and sexuality as a way to attack all the ways we’ve been taught to hate our bodies and to think of ourselves and our needs as inferior to men’s.
Vaginas are simply the, ahem, way into a conversation about what happens when women are excluded from everything from medicine to the boardroom.
And that’s something we should all know. Period, end of story.
Photo credit: Peacock Alley Entertainment