The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina—separating the Myth from the Medicine by gynecologist Jennifer Gunter is a lively, educational guide separating information from misinformation, presented in a clear, smart, sassy style.
“There’s a lot of money in vaginal shame,” writes Jen Gunter. She is known as the clever and outspoken OB/GYN on Twitter (@DrJenGunter—follow her!) who challenges celebrities and companies trying to sell us unneeded (and sometimes harmful) solutions for invented problems. She rips their claims and substitutes solid facts. All of this book is educational, revealing, and empowering. Examples:
- “[T]he other problem with doctors not asking about sex is women who have medical conditions that interfere with their sex life, typically conditions that cause pain with sex, end up minimized. Many women suffer for years not realizing they have a medical problem that has a diagnosis and treatment.”
- “It is hard to overestimate the damage done by Sigmund Freud in popularizing the myth of the vaginal orgasm. Only one third of women are capable of achieving orgasm with penile penetration alone…so the idea that everyone should be having orgasms this way results in two thirds of women believing there is something wrong with their sexual wiring when really they are perfect. Not orgasming with unassisted penile penetration is not a flaw, it’s a feature.”
- “MRI studies looking at anatomy during heterosexual sex reveal that the clitoris can be compressed by the penis, which is why some women can orgasm with penile penetration.”
- “Vulvar cleansing has never been studied. That is interesting, considering the array of products that claim to be gynecologist tested or approved…Some of these washes make claims they can reduce bacterial vaginosis (BV). They can’t. An external wash cannot possibly impact the inside of the vagina, and washing internally with one of these products (some women do that—please don’t) could definitely increase your risk of BV by killing good bacteria or irritating the vaginal mucosa.”
Parts of The Vagina Bible are so hilarious that you’ll want—as I did—to read them aloud to a companion:
- “Almost every woman has been told at least once…to wear white cotton underwear as a medical recommendation to prevent yeast infections and other vaginal mayhem. This makes it sound as if vaginas and vulvas are accidents waiting to happen. The vulva can handle urine, feces, and blood, and vaginas can handle blood, ejaculate, and a baby, so this idea that a black lace thong is the harbinger to a vaginal or vulvar apocalypse is absurd.”
- “I have read about plastic surgeons who do labiaplasty [surgical reduction of the labia minora] so women can look ‘sleeker in so-called athleisure wear.’ I know some people call this look ‘camel toe,’ but I prefer ‘labial cleavage,’ and the answer is not surgery—it is better-fitting athletic wear.”
- “I’ve stared at more male butt cracks (gluteal clefts) than I care to remember…What I never hear is that men should seek out plastic surgeons to get their gluteal clefts sewn shut. I also can’t imagine a similar industry for men that profits from surgically trimming penises so they look better in tight jeans.”
The second half of this book is a serious, comprehensive, scientific resource about infections, conditions, symptoms, and treatments. Dr. Gunter has been treating vulvar and vaginal diseases for nearly 30 years. If you have discomfort, pain, or other symptoms that might be a medical issue, read the relevant chapters of this book, then, armed with this information, take it to your doctor.
This guidebook to the care and functioning of the vulva and vagina by cheeky gynecologist Jen Gunter should be on your bookshelf. Thank you, Dr. Gunter, for this much-needed resource: The Vagina Bible.
2. Enjoy solo sex during high energy times. When do you feel most sexually charged? When you first wake up? After morning coffee and a good poop? Mid-afternoon? That’s when to indulge in a solitary romp, rather than after a meal when you’re digesting or at night when your sensations are shutting down. When you feel the tingle, indulge it!
3. Create your own foreplay. Do sexy things that get you in the mood. Remember hot times with a special lover. Read erotica, play special songs, watch porn (or, if you prefer, a movie with a star who always turns you on), write sexy thoughts in your journal, take a waterproof vibrator into the bath or shower — whatever starts your path to arousal. Appreciate, decorate, and celebrate your body with lingerie, silk, velvet, massage oil, candlelight–whatever feels good and puts you in the mood.
4. Use a silky lubricant. Don’t just settle for the drugstore variety — there are many different varieties of lubricants for moisture and slickness that feel great and bring back the joy of friction, whether we’re using our hands or a toy. Experiment to find your favorites. Keep the lube within reach so you can reapply frequently.
5. Explore sex toys and other erotic helpers. Our hormonally challenged bodies may need extra help to reach orgasm these days, and our wrists may tire before we reach our goal. Women: try a clitoral vibrator, with or without a dildo, depending whether you like the feeling of a full vagina. (Read the many vibrator reviews on this blog to help you choose.) Men: try a sleeve, cock ring, or prostate stimulator. Lucky for us that sex toys for both genders are easy to find, fun to try, and wow, do they work!
6. Fantasize. Let yourself explore fantasy scenes and partners, no limits. Let your brain (your main sex organ!) indulge in whatever arouses you. Be open to whatever comes into your mind, even if it is something you would not do in real life or with someone you consider off limits. No fantasy is “wrong,” and no one has to know what images or scenarios turn you on. Just go with it.
7. Be physical in daily life. Walking, biking, dancing, yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, and other forms of exercise all enhance blood flow and get you in touch with your own physicality. This translates to your sexual arousal because the blood flows to your genitals as well as to your muscles, making arousal easier and faster. Plus you mentally feel “in your body.”
8. Realize that your solo practice not only gives you pleasure, it’s important for health. Experts recommend at least one orgasm a week for both men and women for genital health and for heart health as well. Weekly orgasms keep the pelvic floor strong and the nerves firing, boost the immune system, and reduce the risk of incontinence, depression, and heart disease. Men – regular orgasms are important for prostate health.
9. If you think you’re not in the mood, do it anyway. It’s too easy to put solo sex on the back burner, and once we’re out of the habit, it’s harder to get revved up again. This is especially true at our age, when our hormones are no longer screaming for release. So reread tips #1-8, and just do it. You’ll find that the physical arousal will happen, that that will trigger your emotional arousal, and that triggers more physical arousal, until it’s all working just right.
10. Don’t think of solo sex as “settling for” a substitute for partner sex. You’re celebrating your own sexuality, glorying in your body’s capability of pleasing you, and enjoying the journey. This is a gift you can give yourself whenever you want, and isn’t that wonderful?
(These tips are copyright 2010-2011 by Joan Price and may not be reprinted without permission from Joan Price. Thank you!)
Frustrated in Florida, age 61, had not had sex for nearly 12 years, until recently. She wrote in an email to me:
Apparently one’s vagina does change after not using it for a long period of time. I always thought sex was like riding a bicycle, but it is not. One can’t just get back on and ride! I experienced such pain during the attempted penetration that we had to stop. What a disappointing and embarrassing moment. My partner was very understanding, however I was just frustrated and disappointed.
I went to my GYN for an examination soon after and explained my circumstances. She gave me a thorough exam and said although I had many tiny lacerations and redness, my vagina seemed normal. She explained how one’s vaginal lining becomes thin after menopause and her advise was to abstain from sex for two weeks, using lubrication to aid in healing.
When we engaged in sex again, very gently, I was once again disappointed with the level of pain even though using lots of lubrication. We once again had to stop.
So now I am wondering if there is some way I can stretch my vagina for it seems like it has shrunk. (Perhaps it is just my imagination running wild!)
Have you had anyone else write you with a similar problem and if so is there a solution? For your information I have never been on hormones and my partner’s penis is of normal size.
No, it’s not your imagination, and yes, it’s true that the vagina will seem to shrink after a long period of abstinence, especially after menopause, and penetration will be painful or sometimes impossible. You’ll find a helpful chapter in my book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex and several other posts about vaginal pain on this blog.
I’m disappointed that your gynecologist is not this helpful. Telling you you’re “normal” while you have lacerations and pain is not helpful, is it? Most doctors do not know how to diagnose or treat vaginal pain, and it ‘s wise ask for a referral to a sexual pain specialist.
Please read Vaginal Renewal Program by Myrtle Wilhite, M.D., at A Woman’s Touch, a wonderful sexuality resource center in Madison, WI. It tells you step by step how to massage and stretch your vagina. Here’s an abridged version:
* External Moisturizing and Massage: Increase the suppleness and blood circulation of the skin of your vulva and vagina with a five- to ten-minute massage with a moisturizing sexual lubricant like Liquid Silk®, a water-based lotion that will soak in and moisturize your skin, won’t get sticky, and will help you massage with very little friction.
Push in to the skin with circular strokes, and massage what’s underneath the skin, rather than brushing across the skin. Include the inner lips, the hood of the clitoris, the head of the clitoris and the perineum.
To complete your external massage, massage into the opening of the vaginal canal, using the same circular strokes. The massage itself does not need to be self-sexual in any way, but if that is comfortable for you, by all means explore these sensations.
* Internal Vaginal Massage: To massage inside your vaginal canal, we suggest using a lucite dildo which is very smooth and will not cause friction or tearing. Choose your size based upon how many fingers you can comfortably insert into the opening of your vagina.
After a session of external vulva massage, apply the same massage to the inner surfaces of your vagina with your dildo with lubricant applied on both skin and dildo. Rather than pushing the dildo in and out, use a circular massage movement. You are increasing skin flexibility so that your body can adjust to comfortable sexual penetration if you choose it.
You might also choose to use a slim vibrator for massaging the vaginal walls. Coat it in Liquid Silk and then insert it gently. Turn it on and let it run for about five minutes. You don’t need to move it around, just lie there and let it do its work.
* Orgasm: For women who stop having orgasms, the blood vessels literally can get out of shape, preventing future orgasms. If you are able to bring yourself to orgasm, do so at least once a week (for the rest of your life — seriously). This is preventive maintenance of your body.
* Kegel Relaxation: Kegels increase both the strength and flexibility of your pelvic floor muscles. Pay attention to the relaxation and deep breath part of the exercise. Learning to relax your pelvic floor will help you to avoid tensing up before penetration. (Read A Woman’s Touch’s Step-by-Step Kegels in this article about pelvic floor health.)
In my earlier book, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty, I had interviewed a 75-year-old woman who had been celibate for 38 years and was in a new relationship. She was unable to have intercourse because her vagina had dried and narrowed to the point that penetration was impossible. She sought help from her gynecologist (a wonderful woman who bought dozens of copies of Better Than I Ever Expected to give to her patients!), who helped her.
I’m basking in the joy of CatalystCon, a weekend of learning and sharing with other sex educators and self-proclaimed sex geeks. The mission of this event was “Sparking Communication in sexuality, activism and acceptance.” Oh yes, mission accomplished.
Though most attendees were younger and I was the only speaker on senior sex, there were other people with grey hair (or they would have had grey hair had they not colored theirs). I felt total acceptance from all the people I met, even those decades younger. The sex-positive nature of the event conveyed this message to everyone: “I celebrate my own sexuality, sexuality in general, and your sexuality, no matter how different from mine yours might appear to be.”
I tried to choose from 40 sessions presented over two days, wishing I could attend them all. For every session I attended, there were four I had to miss.
Some of my favorite sex educators featured in Naked at Our Age were speaking: Carol Queen, Charlie Glickman, Megan Andelloux. There were names that inspire recognition and awe, such as Dr. Marty Klein.
(Want your own “Sex Geek” shirt? Order from Reid Mihalko here.)
I attended sessions where I’d learn information that you, dear sex-positive senior readers, would benefit from knowing, and others where I’d come away with plenty of “huh! I didn’t know that!”
For example, the “Toxic Toys” session with Metis Black, founder of Tantus, high quality silicone sex toys; Jennifer
Pritchett, founder of Smitten Kitten; and feisty educator and author, Ducky Doolittle. I was amazed by their stories of activism in an industry where sex toys used to be cheap, easily broken, and made of noxious materials that leached chemicals into our mucous membranes. We have women like these three activists to thank for the safety and quality of sex toys today.
One of the most memorable speakers I heard was Buck Angel. Buck calls himself “a man with a vagina” — he’s a transgender man who elected to have top surgery but not bottom surgery.
As a child named Susan (but everyone called him Buck), he was a “total tomboy” and thought of himself as a boy. “Occasionally someone would say, ‘You’re a girl,” and I’d beat the crap out of them, and they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a dude,’” he says. “Everything was fine until at 15, puberty hit. Not puberty as a boy – but puberty as a girl. Here I am bleeding, my boobs are growing, I’m turning into a woman.”
He had his sex change 20 years ago, before female-to-male changes were done. He was the “guinea pig” for the surgeon who removed his breasts. “For years I hated what I was, and now I love it,” he says.
Now Buck is 50 years old, a porn star (“the man with a pussy”), transgender activist, and motivational speaker. His past includes alcohol and drug addiction, modeling, hustling, attempted suicide, and death threats. “I should be dead,” he says. “Why am I still here? Because I have a message to give the world: Deprogram yourself, and love your vagina.” Buck Angel’s story is worthy of a book. (Buck, do you need a ghostwriter?)
|Carol Queen & Robert Lawrence|
Another provocative session was “Why Talk about Sex and Disability?“, co-presented by Robin Mandell and Dr. Robert Morgan Lawrence (who also gave a fascinating talk on “The Anatomy of Pleasure” with his partner Carol Queen).
Robin referred to people without disabilities as “temporarily able-bodied” and made the point that we have much to learn from sex-positive people with disabilities. Robert, who referred to himself as “old and crunchy,” jolted us all when he spread out all the medications he has to take for myriad medical challenges including pain that limits mobility. He has had to make many accommodations sexually as well as in other ways. “It took being crippled to realize that sex wasn’t penetration,” he says.”
I had fun at a workshop learning to use the new version of the female condom, called the FC2. If your experience was with the first female condom, which felt and sounded like having sex with a shower curtain, you’ll be happy to know the material is completely different now. It’s great for folks of our age, because the penis can be inserted even if it’s not erect, and lube in the condom doesn’t dry up or get absorbed.It can also be used for anal sex for either gender, just remove the inner ring. One man in the workshop said it was a way “to feel bareback sensations while staying protected.” (This video shows how to insert it and gives lots of info.)
Okay, the female condom does look funny (especially in this model with a dildo in it that we passed around — should I not have shared this?), but the workshop leaders, Planned Parenthood sex educators Alma de Anda and Mayra Lizzette Yñiguez, advised us to give it three tries to discover how comfortable and empowering it is. They gave me a bunch of samples (three in a pack, to prove their point) to share with my workshop attendees!
My own session was titled “Senior Sex Out Loud,” the story of my journey from high school English teacher to fitness professional/ health writer to sex educator/ senior sex advocate, with experiences along the way that were sometimes amusing, sometimes amazing, occasionally appalling. I started out wearing a jacket, but shed it when I talked about body acceptance. (Want to hear this speech yourself, or offer one of my workshops at your venue? I have a suitcase packed, would love to come to you. Please email me and let’s talk.)
But CatalystCon was more than the knowledge, more than the networking, more than the
opportunity for me to share what I do and how I feel about it, more than
learning what other sex educators do and how they feel about it. It
felt like a brave new world was possible, one in which acceptance and
Imagine living in a society free of closed-minded people and repressive attitudes and policies, where we celebrate our similarities and our differences and are truly
kind to each other. That was in the air at CatalystCon.
I applaud Dee Dennis, who conceived and birthed CataystCon; the sponsors who made it possible and affordable; the extraordinary speakers who were willing to donate their wisdom and incur their own travel expenses; and the attendees who were eager to absorb new knowledge, communicate openly (even those who wore the “I’m shy” wristbands that Reid gave out), and take our messages home. CatalystConWest will become a yearly event, and CatalystConEast will rock your world March 15-17, 2013 in Washington, DC.
As always, I welcome your comments.