It’s hard not to wish that Dr. Jen Gunter was your personal physician. But at this point in her career—IRL and online—having her as “Twitter’s gynecologist” is close enough. The San Francisco-based, Winnipeg-bred OB GYN, pain medicine physician, New York Times contributor and host of Jensplaining on CBC Gem is a force. With a new book, The Vagina Bible, out this month, she’s spreading her #vagenda (her word, a good one) to educate women about their health and anatomy, dispelling the myths and misinformation perpetuated by the Big Wellness industry. We sat down with her and got a taste of the straight-up, no-fucks-given advice you can expect from this must-read.
When did you start thinking about writing a book?
I’ve been writing about women’s health, gaps in medicine and the patriarchy, and how it’s all intertwined, for some time. About two years ago I was sitting in the office and I basically had six patients in a row [where I said], “No, you shouldn’t put garlic in your vagina, no, tampons aren’t toxic”—it was just miss after miss after miss. And, I never fault the patient, because I know they’re trying to get accurate information, but I just thought, women need a textbook, they need a goddamn textbook.
How did we get to this point, where there are so many myths clouding real facts about wellness?
I think the internet is a great place for conspiracy theories, whether they’re medical or political. The wellness industry, to use one of their phrases, is very toxic. They have been able to take this idea of patriarchy, take the gaps in medicine and capitalize on it and re-package it as somehow empowering feminism—when it’s exactly the opposite. Lying to people about their bodies is not empowering. Or this idea that big pharma is evil—well, sure there’s actually a lot of evil in big pharma, but big wellness is more evil because they’re not doing any studies. So many people have fallen for their savvy marketing. We’re all vulnerable to that.
Why should people *without* vaginas read The Vagina Bible?
I first want to point out that there are many women who don’t have vaginas, and there may be parts of the book that matter to them. You might be a trans woman without a vagina or thinking about getting a vagina. You might be a woman who’s had cancer and had her vagina removed. It’s important to be mindful of that.
But people who don’t have vaginas, who are never planning on having a vagina, can certainly still benefit…It’s funny, I’ve had a lot of dads reach out to me, how they were single dads for whatever reason and they were struggling to find information for their daughter, and they found my book really useful. Lots of people send me lovely messages like that and that’s the thing that keeps me going…. Everyone should know how everything works.
So many people get their knowledge of the female anatomy from pornography. How does that affect our and our partners’ expectations about sex?
No one learns to drive from watching The Fast and the Furious. It’s fantasy and it’s acting, and that has its place for many people, and that’s great. It’s entertainment, wonderful. But with no other filmmaking—that’s not documentary—would we say, “Well, this is how we learn about that.” It’s fascinating to me; I think it reflects our inability address sex accurately.
I think squirting is one really harmful myth [that comes from pornography] because it makes so many women feel like they’re missing something. And then dudes are like, “I made this other woman squirt,” and I’m like, “I don’t fucking care what you did with another woman!” I’ve said that to guys before, I don’t fucking care. Like, I’ve been with dudes who have a bigger dick! Want me to say that?
It’s urine. There’s no gland in the vagina that can possibly release that volume. Now, it’s certainly possible that women who release urine when they orgasm are having a stronger contraction, or maybe they’re getting a different sensation. I can think of a lot biological explanations, but it’s not a goal to necessarily achieve or something that every woman is capable of doing.
If you wanted women to take one thing away about STIs, what is it?
Get the HPV vaccine.
I recently got it, and I’m 53. I’m out there dating, so why not? I thought, I’m going to feel super stupid if I’m out there dating and in four years I have a positive HPV test and I didn’t get the vaccine. There is no downside in a risk-benefit ratio. That’s a no brainer. Get it done. You don’t have to think about it again. Even if your partner hasn’t been vaccinated it’s going to protect you.
Why do you think it’s important to teach women how to communicate to their doctors?
I’m a specialist, I only see people no one else can help, and I would say that 70% of the time it’s not that they have a complex medical problem at all. It’s that the way things have been explained or the way things have been understood have made a simple problem hard to deal with. And so I spend a lot of my time undoing this miscommunication between patients and providers.
I really thought a lot about my communication style with patients. I’m very much a believer in letting people tell their story first. But after they tell me their story, I go back and I have these very specific prompts to get the information that I need to help them. But also, I just thought, wouldn’t it be good for patients to hear how doctors think? And then I thought, well, we teach people how to drive cars, why shouldn’t we teach people how to go to the doctor? I mean, obviously that doesn’t mean you always have to say specific things, but wouldn’t it be better for patients to know?