How would you do if the vagina was your Mastermind topic? Or even just came up over the course of a pub quiz? From really rather rubbish sex education to a chronic lack of research in the arena of women’s health and anatomy, many of us not only resort to covert Dr Google consultations to source basic information about our bodies and what’s “normal”, but we’re peddled hogwash and made to feel ashamed of our sex organs from the get-go (no ‘penis pride’ for us). No more, say sexual health educators and medical students Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl. Their ‘user’s guide to the vagina’ will be published in the UK in March, and it’s essential reading for anyone with, or indeed without, ‘a wonder down under’. It sold out in under three days in the authors’ native Norway, highlighting just how much it’s needed...
From shattering ‘the hymen myth’ to learning the truth about the clitoris (it’s FAR larger than you probably realise) and underlining how great discharge can really be, here’s why girls, women and humans everywhere should add this to their reading list…
What’s the main message?
That all of this pussyfooting (apologies) around the vagina, vulva, clitoris, hymen and all other aspects of female sexual health needs to stop. At best because it leads to anxiety-making search engine encounters and at worst because it perpetuates cultural and social stigma, shame and ultimately leads to such horrifying practices as FGM. Basically, not talking about or studying our vaginas can kill us. Not that this book is heavy- it’s laced with humour, relatable real talk and illustrations that will resonate far more than a dusty old textbook every could (see porn sex vs. normal sex, putting a condom on the right way and contraception , depicted and explained).
Ultimately, Brochmann and Støkken Dahl’s mission is to put women and girls firmly in the driving seat, not only of their vaginas but of their needs, desires, sexuality and overall wellbeing:
“We want women to be able to make independent choices, with all the facts on the table; we want their choices to be based on medical knowledge, not gossip, misunderstanding and fear. A good knowledge base about how the body works will make it easier for women to make their own choices with self-confidence and assurance. Sexuality must be demystified, and we must take ownership of our bodies.”
Hear, hear. Now for the nitty gritty.
Who’s it for?
Girls and women, but really anyone who’s ever come into contact with a woman, i.e, all people. Basically, boys leaving the room when this stuff comes up ain’t helpful for anyone, and only serves to sustain damaging stereotypes, sexist period jokes and countless other fables and discriminatory attitudes related to female sexuality and biology.
If you’ve ever wondered whether your discharge is normal, what the hell that itch is, which contraception does what and why and whether what you’re thinking, feeling, experiencing or seeing ‘down there’ is “normal” at any given time, this eschews the loneliness of your internet browser and delivers the facts clearly with warmth and zero hype or scary headlines.
What will I learn?
Speaking of facts…
One of the most salient discussion points is that we’ve been peddled misinformation about the hymen for eternity.
“The hymen has traditionally been presented as a kind of seal of chastity which, as myth has it, will be broken and bleed when the woman first has sexual intercourse, and only then [...]. The myth of the hymen says: if you bleed after sexual intercourse, people will know that you haven’t had sex before, and equally, that if you don’t bleed, you’ve already had sex. But this myth, like most others, is totally wrong.”
In short, women are not ‘cherries to be popped’, the hymen is not in fact a membrane that covers the vagina akin to cling film, except in a few extremely rare cases, the hymen is more of a ring than some kind of barrier and you can bleed during sex for all manner of reasons completely unrelated to your hymen, or never bleed at all. For more intel, and a handy hula hoop enabled demonstration, see Brochmann and Støkken Dahl’s TEDx talk on the topic of the hymen myth and ‘virginity fraud’. It’s had over two millions views thus far, so we’re hoping that such harmful old-skool views and values are swiftly on the way out.
Other passages of wisdom (knowledge is power, and by proxy this book empowers both women and men) explain that the clitoris is far larger than you, and likely your doctor, thought possible, that your discharge is a wonderful thing and can be very revealing of your general health and that our periods do not in fact synchronise with the women around us, despite up to 80 per cent of us perceiving that this is the case. There’s a wealth of information and non-dry discussion on everything from the practicalities and emotions of first-time sex to basal-temperature “contraceptive” apps (it’s fair to say they’re not huge fans) and troubleshooting common and not so common gynaecological issues, all with solid medical evidence plus a clear bank of human experience to go on- you can tell that these two have been on the frontline of fannies as sexual health educators.
A fascinating handbook to your own, and other women’s vaginas (no two of us are the same after all) that you’ll pass round your friends, family, office and leave on the bus after reading for the general public’s benefit. Sharing is caring, and I’m seriously considering grabbing a megaphone to broadcast that our vaginas don’t need to be douched, three in four women will get thrush in their lifetime although it’s commonly misdiagnosed and you don’t need to “detox” from hormonal contraception if it’s working for you. There are many more topics covered in detail besides (the only notable exception being the menopause ), plus some killer factual reposts if people you barely know have started quizzing you on your fertility and family planning goals now you’ve hit 30. Speaking from experience there…
Pre-order The Wonder Down Under: A User’s Guide to the Vagina , £14.99 (Hodder & Stoughton). The book will be published on International Women’s Day- 8th March 2018.