In 1545, a French anatomist dissected a human clitoris and named it disgraceful member – the embarrassing member. While the Latin term for the vulva, shamemeans “part to be ashamed of”, the German word for lips is labia, in Spanish, “lips of shame”. The history of the female body has been largely written by men and has been “permeated with shame” for centuries, as criticized by science journalist Rachel E. Gross (Long Beach, California, age 33) in her book Dark vagina.
To ask. In the book, he mentions that some parts of the female body are less known than the ocean floor or the surface of Mars. Do you mean the vagina?
Answer. Yes, I mean all organs of down there [usa esta expresión intencionadamente]. Until recently, we didn’t know what the vaginal microbiome looked like. [el conjunto de microorganismos que se encuentran en la vagina] nor that the ovaries could produce new eggs. We also didn’t know that the uterus is one of the most regenerative organs in the body and a few weeks ago we learned how many nerve fibers are in the clitoris. This gives us an idea of how recent this knowledge is and how little we knew before.
P. While the G-spot is named after German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg, the fallopian tubes are named after Italian anatomist Gabrielle Falloppio. How does it affect women that the history of their own bodies has been written by men?
R . This is partly why the research is so focused on reproduction. Historically, men have viewed the female body as inferior and different from the male as defined by its ability to create life. The ovaries have long been thought of as baskets for eggs. But the second, actually more important function, namely the production of hormones that support the entire body, has been neglected. Estrogens and testosterone support your bones, blood and brain whether you become pregnant or not.
P. Would this story be different if it was written by women?
R . Surely. Here I name the female scientists who attempted to write this story and encountered systemic obstacles and prejudices that prevented their work from becoming more widespread. Also to the gay and minority scientists who looked different. The surgeon who just discovered the number of nerve fibers in the clitoris is a transgender person who performs surgeries on trans men. Their goal was to increase the sexual function of trans men using the nerves of the clitoris. This is a good example of how we can learn more about our bodies.
If women had written this story, they would have been interested in female pleasure and general health. They would not have seen menopause as a disease, but as a natural phase of life. They would have tried to understand rather than try to immediately medicalize and fix it as a problem of women losing their femininity and fading away. Yet all scientists were brought up in the same system and women also have internalized prejudices.
“Heavy bleeding, endometriosis or infections are not considered important, they are ‘only’ female problems”
P. A few years ago, an endometriosis expert told her that “no one in Congress really cares about the uterus if it doesn’t have a baby in it,” she says in the book. Is this still happening?
R . Surely. Most of our research dollars go to fertility and reproduction. Many of the medical fields have neglected the clitoris because it is not considered reproductive. It is related to sexual pleasure and doctors find it uncomfortable to talk about. We know so little about so many female body parts because male anatomists didn’t ask the questions that would have led to those answers. They weren’t curious about sexual pleasure, the shape of the clitoris, or the vaginal microbiome.
P. Is there a general ignorance among women about how their vaginas work?
R . Absolute. In some countries you can hardly pronounce his name and euphemisms such as “down there” and even “front ass” are used. If you are taught that this part of your body is so embarrassing and indescribable, how can you be curious about it? In America, sex education is very bad. Basically, they tell you not to get pregnant and not to get an STD (sexually transmitted disease). So you are unlikely to consider it something interesting, fascinating and pleasant. We need to talk about fun more directly and not take it as something shameful or guilty.
In society, there is an intersection of two forces that makes it difficult both to be curious about your own vagina and to study it scientifically. The first is the yuck factor. Vaginas are considered rude and male scientists are freaking out. They can’t even say the word and feel uncomfortable. The second is that things like heavy bleeding, endometriosis or infections are not considered important, they are ‘only’ female problems.
“Historically, scientists have viewed women as carriers of babies who do not need to orgasm and have less sexual desire.”
P. Why is it important to know where the clitoris is and what it is for?
R . The clitoris brings people a lot of pleasure and well-being. It gave me strength to realize how vast it is and how it is connected to everything around it. It’s not a small thing, nor is it just a “little penis”, although it does share many important similarities with this organ. While the clitoris has been dismissed as frivolous or irrelevant to medical science, male erections have often been highly medicalized and invested by Big Pharma. What is the reason for this difference? In part, male scientists have historically viewed women as carriers of babies who do not require orgasms and have less sexual desire than men.
Understanding that your clitoris hugs the vagina and urethra, that it has many nerve endings, that it is the most sensitive part of your body, and that you cannot have an orgasm without it, will change your sexual experience. It makes you realize that your body is working perfectly. Most of us don’t suddenly orgasm from penetration. You will have to focus on the clitoris and realize that your body is not at war with itself, it’s not the clitoris against the vagina, it’s all united. Not expecting your body to do the impossible during sex improves your sexual well-being and allows you to discover what you really like instead of what society says you should work for.
P. What is the most widespread myth about our vagina?
R . That the G-spot is a magic button, and finding it will give you an incredible orgasm. Many women’s magazines often tell you to find it. The G-spot is where the bulbs of the clitoral arms and other tissues and glands of the vagina meet. But really, it’s not magic. You just need to explore your own body and see what works for you.
P. The Latin term for the vulva shame means “sharing that you should be ashamed of”. Should the language used to refer to female genitalia be changed?
R . Shame It is a medical term that reflects how medicine has not dealt with both female and male bodies and has not considered how to refer to them. There are many other examples and this is a problem. Even if you are not aware of it, some of these words are very common and can subtly shape your relationship with your body. It is good to know where they come from and to be aware of the history. There are many that we probably won’t change, such as the vagina, clitoris, and labia. But it’s important to understand that anatomy is not neutral and some of these names reflect that men dominated the history of medicine.
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