Book Review - The Vagina Bible

Recently, a patient in my clinic admitted to using Google to look up a remedy for her breast pain. After we discussed why what she was doing was harming more than helping her and reviewed the proper course of treatment, she said in embarrassment: “I should have known better.” Well, then, I guess we all should know better: Google receives 70,000 health-related queries a minute (The Telegraph). And while mention of ‘Dr. Google’ elicits an eye-roll from any doctor standing within hearing distance, let’s be real for a minute. Dr Google, always on call with a plethora of possible answers to your question in the time it takes to swipe your finger across a screen, is pretty tempting when you are lying in bed wondering if that itch that’s keeping you awake is a sign of something sinister. The concern, as my patient discovered, lies in our ability to gauge the accuracy of these answers. A medical background comes in pretty handy when sorting through the good, bad and ugly that comprises health advice on the internet. So if you’re not a doctor, what do you do?

If your query lies in the field of women’s health (particularly rife with myth, misogyny, and misinformation), you can turn to Dr. Jen Gunter. A Canadian born and trained OB/GYN, Dr. Gunter has earned the title “Twitter’s resident gynecologist” for her fearless takedowns of the celebrity-endorsed wellness industry, the most famous example of which is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop. Gunter’s 2019 book The Vagina Bible is the answer to every question you didn’t think to ask but wish you had about the vagina and vulva and was written as part of her ongoing effort to set the record straight on myths (i.e. the need for vaginal detoxification) that sites like Paltrow’s trade on.

In person, Gunter exudes the same brash, sassy, no-nonsense-older-sister vibe that makes her book so readable. Addressing a packed crowd at the Lethbridge Public Library’s Author Event held at the Yates theatre last week, she answered questions with a candour that made what could be dry waiting room pamphlet material (who should get the HPV vaccine, what to do about painful sex, etc.) seem more like a lesson in empowerment. Doctors don’t often share personal experience with patients, but Gunter’s speech, and book, are peppered with it. Most striking was an anecdote in her book in which she describes a botched attempt at self-diagnosis that ended with a colleague admonishing her for letting her anxiety get the better of her. This kind of sharing, intended to educate but mostly to connect, is what elevates Gunter from doctor to medical activist, and makes her a compelling alternative to the slick kind of fear-mongering the wellness industry tends to engage in. As she states in the intro to The Vagina Bible: “no woman has ever benefitted by learning less about her body”. With advocates like her policing the information highway, we should all feel a bit safer navigating it. Bring it on, Dr. Google.
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