Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

The Vagina Bible: Dr. Jen Gunter

A packed church cheers as Dr. Jen Gunter and the session’s moderator, Julie S. Lalonde, open their event by marching arm-in-arm down the aisle, wine glasses raised, before taking their positions below the altar at Christ Church Cathedral. Lalonde’s printed t-shirt, perfect for this occasion, reads “anything you can do, I can do bleeding.” Between the entrance, t-shirt and Gunter’s response to Lalonde’s first question, (who is this book for?), the audience is primed for a info-taining hour. 


“My primary audience is anyone with a vagina and anyone vagina adjacent,” Gunter says. The Vagina Bible, first and foremost is a textbook for women, says the obstetrician-gynecologist and passionate defender of informed choice. Her “vagenda,” as she calls it, is for “every person to have facts about their body.” Her book sets the record straight on misinformation, busting myths with best-available evidence. 


Myth: Smaller and tighter is better


Gunter says she often applies arguments about the uterus and vagina to the penis and scrotum to question whether certain ideas carry the same weight for men as they do women. Labiaplasty (sometimes called vaginal rejuvenation) is a form of plastic surgery to reduce the size or improve the appearance of labia. Gunter says the athleisure fashion industry is making women self-conscious about their bodies, citing the example of the dreaded “camel toe” effect of tight-fitting yoga-pants. Just imagine a man saying they want to reduce the size of their penis to look better in yoga pants. “I’ve never heard of that, have you?” Gunter asks, questioning why women ought to feel pressured into making their genitalia smaller to be more attractive. She also wants to do away with the phrase “camel toe,” replacing it with “labial cleavage.”


Myth: You need to “let it breathe”


Gunter recalls learning about prevention techniques for yeast infections when she was in medical school in the 1980s. At the time, it was that women wear cotton panties to prevent infection. The recommendation puzzled Gunter. Why would those with their genitalia on the inside (women) be more likely to benefit from a fabric choice of undergarments than those with their genitalia on the outside (men). And if cotton clothing had the power to prevent a yeast infection, what could it do for other infections? Should a patient with pneumonia wear all cotton-clothing as part of a sound recovery regime? Similar arguments abounded—often passed on from mother to daughter—to opt for a night gown at bedtime rather than pajama pants to “let it breathe.” But as The Vagina Bible assures readers, vaginas don’t have lungs. 


Myth: Natural remedies are safe and effective 


Natural medicines or approaches are often touted as better, healthier and safer. From using garlic and yogurt to cure yeast infections; to steaming the vagina for a thorough cleaning; to eating placenta post-birth for a nutrient boost; to avoiding underwire bras as a means for the prevention of breast cancer—these are all examples of natural remedies gone awry. Not only are these purported methods or ideas ineffective or just plain wrong, they are also harmful. Gunter says one of the reasons people turn to these outlandish ideas is because medicine falls short. Medicine has gaps, she says, but the answer is not to fill those gaps with predation. She considers companies that make false claims about health as predators, given they reap rewards from playing into people’s knowledge gaps and insecurities. Gunter offers this sentiment for our consideration: “If there is a problem in the airline industry, we don’t invest in magic carpets.” 


“Fuck the patriarchy,” Gunter exclaims, in what would become a common phrase throughout the session. Many of the myths are rooted in old patriarchal notions be it purity myths, which aim to maintain a view of women as virginal; notions of female genitalia as dirty and toxic, often associated with menstruation; or limited views of female sexuality as related solely to reproduction. 


Bottom-line, says Gunter: it’s not ok for companies to weaponize vaginas against women. She’s fighting back with credible information, so women can make informed decisions.