“The weaponisation of women’s bodies is part of almost every culture.”
It’s a strong statement, but we’ve grown to expect nothing less from Dr Jen Gunter. Dubbed “Twitter’s resident gynaecologist”, the Canadian is famed for telling it like it is, whether she’s dishing out sex-positive vaginal health advice or de-bunking the latest recommendation from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.
Central to her work is a simple philosophy: women’s bodies are not dirty, and anyone who suggests they are is either trying to extort money from you, trying to oppress you, or both.
“These people who sell snake oil, these so-called ‘wellness experts’, some may be out to make a profit and some may genuinely think they’re doing a good job, but they are promoting a patriarchal message,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“They are telling women they need to clean their bodies from toxins, they’re using that language of the patriarchy – ‘pure’, ‘clean’ and ‘natural’ – and they’re repackaging it and they’re passing it off as feminism. But it’s faux-feminism. That’s fascinating to me, but also terrifying.”
The beauty industry has long thrived off shame and women’s insecurities, but Dr Gunter believes the “era of fake news” is causing misinformation to spread faster than ever before.
“We have all these influencers who are pushing things in a way that makes it sounds like they’re your best friend and they’re sitting down and chatting with you, but you have no idea about their bias,” she says.
Her new book, The Vagina Bible, aims to empower women with a source they can trust, spanning topics from painful sex to cosmetic vaginal surgery. It also details the many, many vaginal products being sold to women – and why you shouldn’t buy them. Ahead of the book’s UK release, Dr Gunter tells us five things she wants you to stop putting in and around your vagina.
1. Feminine washes and sprays
Soaps, shower gels and sprays marketed for “feminine hygiene” are not only a waste of money, but could damage your vulva and vagina, Dr Gunter says.
“Many of them actually have scents in them. Your vulva skin is more sensitive to irritation, and fragrance is a very common trigger for irritation,” she explains.
“Also, some women are using these products internally, because we don’t use the right language – we don’t say ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ – it’s evolved into this catch-all grey zone. If you use them internally, you can damage your vaginal ecosystem – your good bacteria.”
The products also contribute to the misogynistic idea that women’s genital are smelly, she adds.
“When they have these smells – these piña colada or tropical smells or whatever the hell smell they’re trying to place on your body part – it’s perpetuating the idea that there’s a problem with your normal, human smell,” Dr Gunter says, adding that these products are only ever marketed to women.
“Because – what – scrotum smells like puppy paws? It doesn’t.”
2. Vaginal douches
Vaginal douching refers to washing out the inside of your vagina with water and other substances, from vinegar to baking soda. Pre-mixed douches, largely sold online, usually come in a bottle or bag designed to be squirted into your vagina – but Dr Gunter says they’re a bad idea.
“Douching, no matter what you’re douching with, is like cigarettes for your vagina – that’s how you should think of it,” she says. “It offers absolutely no health benefits, yet people are adopting it as a lifestyle practice.”
There is no research to suggest douching is beneficial, Dr Gunter says, but there is extensive research that suggests it kills the healthy bacteria in the vagina and damages the mucus layer, causing an imbalance of vaginal PH.
“We know that women who douche have a much higher risk of contracting HIV or gonorrhoea if they’re exposed, because it’s damaging your first line of defences,” she explains. “If you douche – even if you douche with water – you also have a higher risk of bacterial vaginosis.”
She describes the vagina as a “self-cleaning oven”, adding: “It’s good to go, you do not need to do anything to it, it’s watching after you.”
3. CBD vaginal suppositories
The global CBD industry is booming and the latest trend for cannabis-deprived products is CBD suppositories – a small, pill-like product designed to be inserted into the vagina. Sellers claim the products ease period pain, but Dr Gunter urges caution.
“We have very little data on CBD for pain. And when there’s no data, it’s very ripe for abuse,” she says. “What we know right now is that any cannabis product that is designed to be inserted into the vagina is untested, so you should be very wary of any company making health claims.
“How would you feel about a pharmaceutical company selling you a pill that hasn’t been tested? It’s the same thing. So I would ask people to look at it with that eye.”
The very small amount of data we do have on cannabis-derived products and the vagina suggest they are associated with an increase risk of yeast infections, Dr Gunter adds.
“There is some old animal data that shows it could potentially impact the sugar in the cells in the vagina, and this is super important, because sugar in the cells in the vagina is the source of food that feeds the good bacteria,” she explains. Changes in the bacterial makeup of the vagina can cause yeast infections (thrush).
Some CBD products have been found to contain THC – the compound in cannabis that makes you feel high. “THC can easily be absorbed and you could easily get high from that. I couldn’t care less about recreational marijuana use, but if we don’t know how that effects your vaginal ecosystem, it’s very much a case of buyer beware,” Dr Gunter says.
4. Jade eggs.
Ahh the Jade egg. Dr Gunter’s takedown of the product in an open letter to Gwyneth Paltrow in 2017 is perhaps her most famous product de-bunking.
Goop initially recommended women insert the egg in their vaginas to improve muscle tone, suggesting it could lead to better sex and regular periods. But the advice ended in Goop paying $145,000 in penalties to settle a California consumer-protection case.
The brand is still selling jade eggs, albeit in plain packaging with no overt health claims.
“Jade eggs are a scam. Why would you trust someone who is trying to sell you an actual proven scam?” says Dr Gunter. The egg is made from a porous material with microscopic crevices, she claims, meaning it can be difficult to clean.
“We don’t know how to take care of it so that we’re not re-introducing bacteria into the vagina and risking toxic shock syndrome,” she says. “If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor, there are great ways to do that. You can do kegel exercises for free.”
If you do want to use a vaginal weight, Dr Gunter recommends buying a medical-grade product that’s silicone or plastic and easy to clean.
“Some of them look very sexy if you want to incorporate them into sexual play,” she says. ”You can also buy a great quality vibrator for less than a jade egg – just saying – and it’s probably going to do a lot more for your sexual health.”
5. Intimate wipes
It’s very obvious who the target market is for intimate wipes, aka wet wipes designed to be used in place of toilet tissue. With their stereotypically-feminine floral packaging, some articles and blogs have suggested women use the wipes when camping or attending festivals. Dr Gunter’s opinion? Don’t bother.
“Why are wipes marketed to women for camping and not for men? Don’t they have asses to wipe too?” she says. “Until they exist with men’s products, I’m going keep hammering that it is pure misogyny.”
She argues that women are constantly over-cleaning themselves because we receive “all these predatory messages” about being unclean.
“Wipes cause skin irritation including contact dermatitis – gynaecologists see this all the time,” she says. “Your skin is a protective layer and the more you wipe, the more you are going to irritate it.”
So, what should you use instead?
“Almost everything sold over the counter is unnecessary. I’m a gynaecologist, I’m a vulva expert, and I don’t use any of those products,” says Dr Gunter.
Instead, she uses a cheap $4 facial cleanser on her entire body (including her vulva), coconut oil as moisturiser and silicone-based lube.
If a product being sold in store or online does catch your eye, she recommends doing your research before parting with hard-earned cash.
“You should never get health information from someone selling you the product,” she says. “Ask a gynaecologist, your GP, or a dermatologist. My book will cover almost everything you can buy over the counter.”