“Separating the Myth from the Medicine” in Women’s Health

Book review: The Vagina Bible, by Jen Gunter, MD (Amazon / Book Depository)

Misinforming women about their bodies serves no one. And I’m here to help end it.

The Vagina Bible is a book that should be owned by anyone who also owns a vagina, and read by anyone who has close contact with one. This review could really end here, but I’ll elaborate in case you’re not convinced.

What I honestly wish for every woman, and I’m not being facetious, is that she find a good gynecologist. To anyone who hasn’t dealt with a bad gynecologist (or, honestly, more than one) that may not seem like a big deal. But oh, how it is.

Dr. Jen Gunter is a good gynecologist. You may recognize her, as I did, from her media interviews debunking myths and general nonsense trends that are good for someone selling something and bad for women and their vaginas. She calls out Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop with her recommendations for vaginal steaming and jade eggs, but there’s no shortage of unfortunate trends and practices that are affecting our understanding of our own bodies and our healthcare.

She also blogs about issues she’s encountered in her practice, especially ones that seem to have patients mired in misinformation, and has a docuseries on CBC called Jensplaining, so she’s seriously dedicated to providing women with facts and eradicating dangerous, frustrating untruths. I could not be more on board with this.

This book is a comprehensive compendium of those debunking and educational efforts — informative with clear, evidence-based reasoning against myths or claims, told in an easily accessible way. She gives examples of her own mistakes, which was reassuring, and sometimes takes a chatty tone that’s perfect for the content, helping to make it memorable. Which is important considering a lot of these myths are pretty firmly entrenched over our lifetimes. Like this old chestnut:

Almost every woman has been told at least once (and often more than once) to wear white cotton underwear as a medical recommendation to prevent yeast infections and other vaginal mayhem. This makes it sound as if vaginas and vulvas are accidents waiting to happen. The vulva can handle urine, feces, and blood, and vaginas can handle blood, ejaculate, and a baby, so this idea that a black lace thong is the harbinger of a vaginal or vulvar apocalypse is absurd.

And sometimes she’s just hilarious, like about how serious it is that you never douche: “DOUCHES: These are cigarettes for your vagina.” You’re not likely to forget the big points here.

She starts with basic anatomic explanations; “everyday and maintenance” topics like Kegel exercises, the effects or lack thereof from food, “the bottom line on underwear”; cleansing; hair removal; menstrual products and mythology; menopause; medications; STIs; conditions like yeast, BV, UTIs; how to explain symptoms to your doctor; rehabbing your medicine cabinet; old wives’ tales and how to use the internet for reliable information. And lots more. It is thorough. She also includes information specifically for trans individuals and for non-hetero sex and issues.

As informative as so much of this was, a lot of it made me angry. I can’t believe some of the things other doctors have done or told me or friends, or that men have been ignorant about or unconcerned with. I had to put it down sometimes and calm down. So much misinformation exists about so much for women, and Gunter makes a good case for why that is. She details how knowledge about female health is actually far behind men’s, for many reasons: medical students couldn’t dissect female cadavers, penises were considered more important anyway, etc. It goes on and on. But it’s disappointing that even today so much bullshit is still propagated as fact.

Or how much useless junk is marketed to women to clean and purify our legendarily dirty vaginas (GWYNETH) or the idea that doctors are willing to cut off labia pieces because someone thinks they’re too big. She traces as many of these back to their foundations in the patriarchy as possible and it’s upsetting. But better to be informed, and it all just seems the more ridiculous in her telling:

I’ve stared at more male butt cracks (gluteal clefts) than I care to remember, whether it was just some guy bending over or gravity-defying pants that appear to hover like magic just above the anus without a belt. What I never hear is that men should seek out plastic surgeons to get their gluteal clefts sewn shut. I also can’t imagine a similar industry for men that profits from surgically trimming penises so they look better in tight jeans.

She has pithy, data-sourced counterarguments for every nonsense claim. Like all the suggestions for various foods to stick up your vagina when something is wrong rather than scientifically approved medicines: “The remedy is most definitely not at the grocery store.”

Or the ridiculous moral-based arguments against certain treatments, like the HPV vaccine: “Vaccinating kids does not make them more likely to have risky sex. This has been proven by studies. (Also, no one worries that teaching kids to buckle up produces unsafe drivers.)”

This isn’t a book to read straight through. Although it’s undeniably fascinating, occasionally mind-blowing and always written in an easy to absorb way, including a summary of main points at each chapter end, it’s a lot to immerse yourself in. It’s still one to read in its entirety, as you may be surprised at what turns out to be helpful, and absolutely one to buy, not borrow. I promise that even if you think you already know what you need to know, there’s more.

And above all, it’ll just make you feel better. So many of the things that have been made out to be women’s fault — in maintaining our own health or just owning the parts that we do, however they look, smell, or operate — are beyond our control or we’ve been misinformed about. And it’s not all ancient prejudices against women. A lot is modern wellness gurus, homeopathy, snake oil cures for problems that don’t actually exist, marketing, and morals.

One point that she repeats throughout and I really appreciated was her fight against the option for treatments, supplements, dietary changes or restrictions that aren’t medically proven but are often suggested with a “can’t hurt” shrug.

I call these types of interventions, like wearing cotton underwear or emptying your bladder after sex, the burden of “well, it can’t hurt.” But they truly are a burden. Every time we make a woman jump through a useless hoop to get better, we add a burden, be it financial, or emotional, or the exasperation of doing so many things and yet realizing that you are running very hard but not getting anywhere.

If there’s something worth trying, she lets you know the how and why of it. Being an informed patient and able to advocate for your own health is crucial, whether it’s with your doctor, partner, or anyone perpetuating ignorance. This comprehensive, empowering, intelligent guide will help.

The patriarchy and snake oil have had a good run, but I’m done with how they negatively affect and weaponize women’s health. So I am not going to stop swinging my bat until everyone has the tools to be an empowered patient and those who seek to subjugate women by keeping them from facts about their bodies have shut up and taken a seat in the back of class.

The Vagina Bible:
The Vulva and the Vagina — Separating the Myth from the Medicine

by Jen Gunter, MD
published August 27, 2019 by Citadel

Amazon / Book Depository


37 thoughts on ““Separating the Myth from the Medicine” in Women’s Health

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  1. Thank you, thank you for featuring this book (off to find it). I was fortunate to have a woman OB-GYN assigned to me when I was 18-years old and still a dependent of my military father. In that moment, I learned that I should never have another doctor who couldn’t experience what I could and have had female practitioners since. It made a huge difference in my life. And still, at my age, I’m learning new truths.

    This may be one of your most important reviews (outstanding!) to date💜💜💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad I could introduce you to it! And that is such a kind compliment, thank you so much, Jonetta ❤ I hope I can convince as many people as possible to read this one. It’s outrageous that so much misinformation still exists and we’re finding new and creative ways to harm women with it all the time (see: making your labia smaller).

      Unfortunately I learned that lesson about a female doctor the hard way, it’s good that you knew it so early and avoided some strife. I’ve seen both male and female practitioners and I didn’t want to be biased, but after the last ridiculous experience with a male gyno I’m done. I told my current doctor something he’d said that I’d been worried about and she rolled her eyes and shook her head. There were things in this book that had been told to me by male doctors that Gunter specifically highlights as being bs. I’m over it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A friend and I were laughing about old Gwyneth and her jade eggs and steaming your vagina the other day. But in some ways not that funny – some poor woman got really bad burns from doing it and the underlying message that vaginas are dirty is appalling. Goop is such nonsense. I have read Gunter’s blog, it’s funny and sensible. Also, I spotted this book in my local library and almost took it out but was not in the mood to look into my vagina, as it were 😱 I do worry about the nonsense young women are indoctrinated with these days as regards their bodies and the casual misogyny that is still rife (I worry about some of the things my teen sons come out with, popular culture and rap music has a insidious influence ) so this book is timely.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know, you can get burned badly from the vag steaming! It just seemed laughable until I heard that possibility, can you even imagine…I don’t know where Goop comes up with their crap. Gwyneth also said that those jade eggs are an ancient Chinese secret and this doctor points out that no historians have ever heard of it but a for-profit company has. lol.

      The casual misogyny is awful, it just becomes so ingrained. It’s frustrating, and a lot of the misinformation and myth here is spread by men. I think you just have to really point it out, every single time, until they start to think about it a little more deeply themselves.

      I read this one much more slowly than I normally do because yeah, some days you’re just not in the mood to read about vaginas and that’s how it is! But it’s so worthwhile, I promise.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m SO relieved that this is as amazing as it sounds – I’m obsessed with Jen on Twitter and I’m dying to get my hands on this, though I’m sure it will infuriate me as well. Even some of the excerpts you quoted – like, is peeing after sex not a thing that women have to do?! Because I have heard from so many people that you’re supposed to?! Mind blown. It’s absolutely tragic that books like this are needed as badly as they are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you love her too!! I was a big fan of her blog so already knew she was amazing but the book surpassed my expectations.

      And yes, peeing after sex is unnecessary!!! She just says studies show it’s medically ineffective and one more of those things we do that we think are helping but do nothing. To be honest I didn’t even know exactly what it was supposed to help, just that multiple someones told me you were supposed to and I always believed it. I agree, it’s tragic that we need this kind of book, not to mention the extent of how much myth there actually is. It’s one thing to believe an old wives’ tale and another when doctors are unhelpful or misinform, or influential people try to sell you something or convince you there’s something wrong when there’s not. That made me so angry, because my God, it’s all hard enough as it is.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. She’s SO great! I actually had a moment of nervousness when I saw you reviewed this because I was like oh god, what if it’s awful, my heart won’t be able to take it! I needn’t have worried, obviously.

        I feel like I’ve heard that peeing after sex is to flush out bacteria or something…??? How are there STILL so many awful misconceptions that inconvenience women and they’re just widely accepted as truth? Because like you said, it’s not just old wives’ tales, it’s actual medical advice so much of the time! How utterly infuriating.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I think this is my favorite review… um, EVER. Completely sold. I’m currently reading (and enjoying) Ask Me About My Uterus, but halfway in the focus hasn’t fully honed in on endometriosis and uteruses yet, so it’s really leaving me wanting to read something… more like this. Both the info and the tone sound excellent; I’ll definitely be picking up a copy. Thanks for sharing such a great review! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much!!! I’m so glad I could convince you to read this one. It really feels like essential reading. I get the impression Ask Me About My Uterus is a bit more personal and story-based and this one definitely skews toward the medical side of things, but it’s very readable nonetheless.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. When I still had Twitter, I followed her account, but I had to unfollow her because she was so mad, her trolls were so mad — a lot of what she had to say was combative in a way I couldn’t handle on social media. However, a book in which she gets the space to say her piece without stupidity interrupting seems like a good read. I hope she covers menstruation. Twitter has certainly taught me women have no idea what’s going on with their periods/period pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have to admit, I have dismissed titles like this thinking that I’m informed enough, but this sounds great. From your experience, it sounds like I’m likely to learn something helpful and at minimum, it seems both entertaining and infuriating in a good way. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean, I thought that would be the case with this one too, that there just wouldn’t be that much to learn from it. But there really was, and “infuriating in a good way” is the perfect way to put it!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for another brilliant review – you’re always my go to for non fiction recommendations! ❤️ I recently read ‘Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’ with my book club. It’s along similar themes and is incredibly eye opening!
    📕MP📚 X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that makes me so happy to hear, I’m glad we have so many in common 🙂 I just looked up Invisible Women, that sounds so good! I hadn’t heard of it, thanks for making me aware of it, onto the list it goes. This one was excellent, really a worthwhile read and also very eye opening too. Hope you like it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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