Dr. Jen Gunter wants you to stop putting coffee up your butt.
The author of the Vagina Bible told Global News, “coffee enemas as a way to cleanse your colon is all sorts of f***ed up.”
The Winnipeg-born obstetrician and gynecologist is on a crusade to protect women’s health from misconceptions and myths often spread from the gaps in medicine, exploited by the “wellness industry” and endorsed by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow.
We spoke with Dr. Gunter about some of the most common misconceptions women have about their vaginas and how to spot fake health news.
Global News: How was The Vagina Bible conceived?
Dr. Gunter: I’ve been debunking myths online for some time and writing for other news outlets, and I was still seeing the same myths in the office, like over and over again.
I had this one day where I had about five women come in, and they all had myths about their bodies or about treatments for medical conditions. And they might have been told it by some dude, by their mom, by their friends, read it in a magazine or even heard it from a doctor.
Each patient said, “how did I not know that?” And I thought, “how did they not know that?” And I was looking at all the textbooks on my shelves and I thought, you know what women need? A textbook. They need a goddamn textbook.
So the next time they read some bullsh*t or some dude is trying to tell them something, they can say, “what does Jen Gunter think about that?” and open it up and figure it out.
What is the most prevalent health myth you correct all the time?
I think one of the most common is that the vagina is dirty and needs to be cleaned and that the uterus has toxins, so those kind of go hand-in-hand.
Hearing that women’s’ bodies are dirty or toxic is the the kind of core tenet of the patriarchy. That’s how women are kept in period poverty, they’re kept from religious services, they’re kept from schools or kept from work.
WATCH: What is vaginal steaming
And even now we see, you know, young women going to sites like Goop, reading about things like that, you know, vagina-steaming or eating pineapple to change the scent of the vagina.
That’s all based on that same destructive myth. It’s just repackaged in a different way.
What is the most common misconception women have about their vagina?
There’s a big misconception that the vagina encompasses everything inside and the outside. Many women don’t realize that the vulva is a different body part. The vulva is where your clothes touch the skin and the vagina is the connection between the uterus and the outside world.
I think another big concern that I hear about is about their labia, which is the vulva.
WATCH: It’s a vagina, not a hoo hoo – the importance of using proper terms when discussing genitals with kids
Many women are concerned that their labia minora are longer and visible than their labia majora, and they think that’s uncool, that it’s unsexy. I’ve heard young girls as young as 12 being told that at sleepovers, that there’s something wrong with their labia.
You know, 50 per cent of women have labia minora that protrude beyond their labia majora. That’s half of women. That’s like how half of us are built. That’s not abnormal, it’s just the way it is.
And your labia have some erectile tissue, they’re very sensory, they have specialized nerve endings and they’re actually part of your sexual response.
No one would ever say to a man, “your penis is too large.” I think that that’s a newer myth that I really hope we can nip in the bud pretty soon.
What’s the weirdest question someone has ever asked you?
There’s a new one, actually, [which is] that you can use colloidal silver in your vagina to treat all kinds of things. Colloidal silver is actually quite harmful and if you ingest it regularly by mouth, it will permanently turn your skin blue. It’s very caustic and it can burn.
When I heard that I was like, what? Colloidal silver where?
WATCH: Gynecologists warn people to stop putting glitter capsules into their vaginas
How and why do people fall for these crazy remedies?
I think that’s really important to press upon people — that women don’t just randomly stick weird sh*t in their vagina.
Somebody who is a trusted authority has led them to believe it’s the right thing to do. They’re not stupid, they’re going online, researching and doing their best. What happened is, instead of meeting the right information, they met a predator, who told them wrong information and it was presented in a science-ish way that made it sound right.
And then also part of the fault has to lie with traditional medicine, evidence-based medicine, that sadly sent that woman there.
A lot of these ideas, like using garlic to treat yeast infections, yogurt to treat yeast infections, colloidal silver in the vagina, boric acid to balance your pH — which it can’t do — these are all things women find from what they feel to be trusted resources.
So I think it’s really important for us to really say where this misinformation is coming from.
What role has the big “wellness” industry had on women’s health?
I think the wellness industrial complex is very predatory and it’s very patriarchal.
The words they use to sell products — “pure, clean, natural” — those are the same words we weaponize against women when we’re trying to keep them “pure, clean and natural” for like some dude, for your wedding night. “Periods are dirty, vaginas are dirty, you need to be pure, you need to be clean, wear white cotton underwear.” Right?
All of these purity myths have, I think, weighed on women since, you know, we evolved to be women. A woman’s worth has basically been distilled to her hymen and her reproductive capacity.
Another thing “wellness” does is it generates fear. It makes people scared of things like toxins, but they don’t actually tell you what those actual things are, or what negative effects they have.
Health isn’t trendy. This season it’s turmeric. Next season it’s charcoal, then it’s CBD. And then we move on to something else because they have to keep you buying products.
WATCH: What CBD oil is and how it works
Those things haven’t fixed the problem. So you buy the next one and you buy the next one. But it takes years to know if something’s going to help people.
What are some red flags and clues that people can use to spot fake health news?
1. If it’s offered as a miracle cure. There are no miracles in medicine; that doesn’t happen.
2. If it can treat everything. If the list of symptoms that it can treat is extensive, then that’s not true.
3. If the word “toxins” is used. Doctors don’t talk about toxins. Studies don’t talk about toxins.
4. If the information is coming from a site that’s selling the product. You can’t get quality information from that kind of bias.
No one would think that they should get their information on depression from a drug company who makes anti-depressants, right? So you shouldn’t get your information on a product, or about the medical condition that product treats, from person selling the product.
I think those would be the four top pieces of advice I’d give — and read the Vagina Bible!
WATCH: How fake news spreads