"If the goal is to oppress women by always making them worried about their bodies – which are normal – disinformation is a very effective tool," says Gunter.
Canadian-American doctor Jen Gunter became a myth hunter about women's health. In his opinion, hundreds of years of misinformation served to control and oppress them.
"If the goal is to oppress women by always making them worried about their bodies – which are normal – disinformation is a very effective tool," he says.RELATED
Now, for her, a whole "wellness" industry perpetuates these myths and creates new ones to sell her products.
What Gunter wants, as he says at the beginning of his book "The Vagina Bible," is to train all women with accurate information about the vagina and vulva.
"I thought: 'My God! If it's difficult for me, I'm a doctor, how can people find information?" Https://www.bbc.com/ ".
The work consists of 400 pages that answer from the simplest questions (what is the vagina ?, what is the vulva?) To the most complex (what is the truth about the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV)?).
Gunter became famous in the United States for publicly facing actress Gwyneth Paltrow, winner of the Oscar for "Shakespeare in love", who became a kind of "guru" with a health and wellness blog and a company worth millions of dollars .
The actress's website has already been fined for disseminating information without a scientific basis, something that Gunter has repeatedly pointed out, denying among other things claims such as that bras cause cancer (not so!) Or that vaginal sprays clean the uterus ( Neither! The idea that the uterus is dirty is "a patriarchal myth," he wrote).
In 2017, Gunter wrote a text saying that the actress's website fed on the fear industry, generating doubts and false ideas in women. The editorial board of the actress's blog responded by calling Gunter "strangely secure" when making those statements.
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Gunter replied: "I am not 'strangely sure' about vaginal health. I am adequately sure because I am an expert. I studied medicine for four years, did five years of residency in gynecology and obstetrics, a year of infectious disease research," and kept quoting. Your full resume.
"A woman without any medical training that tells women to go around with vaginal ovules is the one who is' strangely safe."
In the following interview granted to BBC News Brazil, Gunter talks about the causes and interests behind the myths about women's health spread on internet portals and social networks and answers questions about women's health.
In his book, he states that women have suffered "hundreds of years of misinformation." What kind of disinformation do you mean?
In many cultures, you can't even name the parts of the female body. You cannot say "vagina", "vulva" and "clitoris". If you cannot say the name of a party, you have the impression that it is shameful and somewhat dirty.
If we cannot talk about the body, how are we going to find correct information about it? The female body has not been studied in the same way as the male. We do not study women's health in the same way that we study men's health. Women were excluded from medicine and science, it was only recently that we began to hear their voices.
For the doctor, the fact that women of various cultures cannot speak or mention "vagina", "vulva" or "clitoris" makes these parts become something that is embarrassing.
And now, in addition to that, we have the welfare industry, which is deceptive marketing. This has always existed, but now it appears when we enter Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. In addition, we see that the same erroneous headlines are repeated several times and we all confuse the repetition with precision. When people read these myths, which spread faster and faster, this information "hits" more.
How and why did he start to deny myths?
As a doctor, I care about the information with which my patients arrive at the office. This was a great factor. But it was also because I had children with serious health problems and I started researching things on the internet and found a lot of crap.
I thought: "My God! If it's difficult for me, I'm a doctor, how do others do to find information?" Then I began to think from another perspective on the information that my patients brought.
He also had a public fight with actress Gwyneth Paltrow. What motivated this confrontation?
One day they sent me an article (from the Paltrow website) about vaginal sprays. I thought: "This is the stupidest thing in the world." Then I wrote about that and it went viral. Then there was the text that said bras cause breast cancer. They do not cause it. And what he said about women getting vaginal suppositories. Don't do it!
I began to deny those things, and Gwyneth found me "strangely safe" to make these claims, being a doctor and everything. In the end, the portal was fined. But they said they were just "chatting." It is very dangerous to transmit information like that and then say "we weren't transmitting information" or tell people what they should do.
She didn't want to convey information like that or tell people what she should do, but she wrote an article about vaginal suppositories and is selling vaginal suppositories. I think most people would say that is telling others what they should do.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow created an empire with her company dedicated to health and wellness, but publicized products and published informational texts without scientific evidence.
Who is interested in spreading this false information about women's health?
Well, first, who wants to sell a product. When you have unreliable supplements and want to sell them, or when you want women to insert "energy eggs" into the vagina, you should misinform them.
When you want to sell expensive buffers that are supposed to be organic, with no health benefits, you should spread misinformation so that women choose the most expensive products.
But this wrong information is also very harmful when we talk about contraceptive options and the right to abortion. We see women who are afraid of certain contraceptive methods due to myths. Or we see women who have not been adequately educated about contraceptives because of wrong information, making wrong decisions because they do not have enough data. And we see governments knocking down women's reproductive rights.
And there are also many similarities between scientific inaccuracies and false political news. Even, sometimes, people share wrong information for lack of knowledge. More education in health and science is needed.
The same goes for the weather or the anti-vaccine content. If you look at people who are against vaccination, the minority believes in conspiracy theories and most have been contaminated with erroneous information on the internet.
The doctor denies the benefits of vaginal ovules promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow on her website.
In his book he mentions patriarchy as the main engine of misinformation in these cases. What do patriarchy and machismo have to do with the myths we read about women's health?
Everything comes from there. If the goal is to oppress women by always making them worried about their bodies – which are normal – disinformation is a very effective tool. If the goal is to keep women in poverty, without giving them reproductive rights and information, without allowing them to decide on their own bodies, this is a good way to do it.
The basic myth, the basic and central belief of patriarchy, is that female bodies are dirty. When girls begin to menstruate, they are dirty, ashamed in many cultures and communities. This is how people are controlled.
When you want to control half of the population, and there is a clear sign that they are different, that they are bleeding, this is an effective tool. Say: "Ah, this blood is disgusting and abnormal, something is wrong with you."
Women became merchandise. They should be virgins until marriage and they should have as many children as possible and when they grow old they should shut up and leave. This is how they treat us.
And what are the consequences for women of believing in these myths?
They make health decisions that can be bad for them. They end up without having sex as they want in bed because they can't say: "Hey, only 30% of women reach an orgasm with penetration, I want stimulation in the area of my clitoris." 100% of women should receive the HPV vaccine, but they don't do it because of misinformation and fear.
It is a bad medical decision because it exposes women to cervical cancer. There are serious consequences.
You said earlier that "we don't study women's health in the same way we study men's health." How does this influence what we know about women's health and body?
For many medications and medical conditions, tests are usually performed on healthy men or men in general. And there are reasons for that that could have been acceptable when we had no information. Women have cycles, our hormones are different at different times of the day and some of these things can affect medical conditions.
I understand that biologically initial studies can be done in men, but that does not mean it is acceptable to stop there. People of different racial backgrounds can react differently to different medications. We know that age can have an impact. There is much exclusion of all of us who are not white men between the ages of 18 and 35, the "ideal" study population.
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We have to ask for more. We have to say: you cannot study things that affect only a small population, because until we study everyone, we will not know, we will not have how to know, that there may be differences of impact for different ages and that women can react to the medicines of different way, according to their age, menopausal status and time of month.
With so many false news about politics, but also about health, people can be anxious, without knowing how to find out. After all, how should we navigate in this environment full of information that is not always reliable?
First, never trust celebrities. Unless they tell you to stop smoking, which is great. I wish I could say that doctors can be trusted, but this is not always possible. Hopefully, you can find a doctor to trust. But doctors can also be a source of wrong information. And internet too.
There are good doctors, predatory doctors or doctors who really don't know. There are good websites and predatory sites, and there are also sites whose authors are confused and transmit incorrect information without knowing it.
I think the vaccine against that is the facts. The more we know about our body, the more we can receive information and say, "This is crap, I shouldn't believe it." The facts help. We also have to teach people how to look for health information. It is very important, we have to increase health education. We have to teach people how to identify bias on websites.
Every time we receive medical information, we should think: "Why does this person want me to believe this? What is your interest in this? Are you a journalist, someone selling a product, someone against a vaccine?" .
Eight questions about women's health
Gunter answered the first five questions during the interview; Questions 6-8 were answered in your book.
1) Is there a point G?
The "G-spot," in Ernst Gräfenberg's original study, was described quite accurately as what we now know is the clitoris, a large structure with erectile tissue that is very close to the urethra. So I was describing something we know today: that part of the clitoris is very close to the urethra, and that many women should have that sensitive part, depending on the type of stimulation and timing.
In some days it may be optimal. In others, no. Different things can influence what we feel pleasant. But somehow this idea has been transcribed by the patriarchate as a point of the woman who can touch and drive her crazy. No, it is not that, it is not a button that one can press.
It is part of the whole, part of the erectile tissue, and it has to be stimulated with effort, just as it happens with other areas, and it does not concentrate in one place, a specific gland.
José Antonio Luque Olmedo / Getty Images
The original "G-spot" study described the erectile tissue near the urethra that we now know is part of the clitoris.
I think this has become a "cordless phone." The women say: "I can't have an orgasm with my partner playing alone in that area." Yes, because there is no secret button. It is more than that. And then we see people offering "G-spot injections" based on the idea that nerves can be stimulated in this area, but you can't.
That originally correct study was translated to the public incorrectly. Either because men want to believe that they can drive women crazy with just one touch, or because of the patriarchal belief that the penis is the best way for women to reach orgasm.
Women who have sex with women say: "What is this? The penis is not at all necessary for a great sexual experience." Talking to people who don't have penises, we come to different conclusions.
2) Does the food we eat influence our vaginal health?
Eating is good for your overall health. With a healthy and balanced diet, you have a healthier body in general. But you shouldn't think of food as something for specific parts of the body, it doesn't work that way. You cannot change the smell of the vagina.
The biggest myth is that sugar consumption can cause fungal infections. This is a complete disinformation because you cannot change the level of sugar in the vagina with food. This is not how sugar reaches the vagina.
At some times of the month, the vagina may have even more sugar than is in the blood. The sugar in the vagina also feeds the bacteria that work well. There is a complete lack of information about the entire ecosystem of the vagina. There are people who think that eating yogurt or putting yogurt in the vagina can cure candidiasis. It's not true, because you don't have the right type of lactobacilli. You can eat yogurt, it's great, it's a good source of calcium, and women need calcium in their diets, but it won't help the vagina.
3) How should we clean the vulva and the vagina?
Cleaning the vagina and cleaning the vulva are two different things. The vulva is the skin on the outside, where the clothing touches the skin (formed by the largest and smallest lips and the clitoris, among other external female organs), and the vagina is the inside (the channel that connects the vulva with the cervix).
The vagina never needs cleaning. Leave her alone. Don't touch it, it's like an oven that cleans itself. Showers, sprays and tissues inside the vagina are harmful. Never use them. You would be killing the bacteria and the protective mucus layer inside can be damaged. Fluid discharges exist for protection. The cells that float in the vagina that are part of the discharge are also part of a protective mechanism, they only leave when they have to. Therefore, all these natural protective mechanisms, good bacteria, mucus and even cells may be damaged and facilitate the entry of bacteria are interrupted.
The vulva is only skin, as anywhere else. It is not dirtier than other parts. When it is cleaned, its goal is to eliminate sebum, sebaceous gland secretions and bacteria, if any. You do not need aggressive cleaning products.
For many people, water is enough. But for people who think they need something else, a cleaning product could be better. These use enzymes and chemicals to remove dirt and debris from the skin without removing its acid mantle, a substance that protects our skin. It is a layer of protection. And when we remove this layer, the skin dries. That's what soap does.
Soap can also increase the pH of your skin. The pH of the vulva is approximately 5.3, so you should use a product that has approximately the same pH as the vulva, that is the safest. I only use a facial soap because they are cheaper and many feminine products have not been tested. Many have fragrances and one should not use fragrances. And I don't want to support a company that also sells showers.
4) Do hairs protect the vagina? Should we eliminate them?
Pubic hair is normal. It is not unusual to have it. We believe that what it does is provide a mechanical barrier to the skin by blocking dirt and debris, and that it probably also keeps the skin moist in that area, because the moisture content of the vulva is higher than in the rest of the body .
It can also play a role in sexual pleasure, because each hair follicle is attached to a nerve, so it hurts when you shave. Therefore, moving pubic hair can increase the sensations of sexual activity of the body. The direct risks of eliminating it are injuries, which is not uncommon: we see wounds, infections, ingrown hairs.
Some studies suggest that removing pubic hair may increase the chance of transmitting or acquiring sexually transmitted viral diseases, herpes and HPV. When you remove a hair with a blade, you create a microtrauma on the skin. That is why it is no longer shaved with a blade before surgery, as it can cause a micro trauma to the skin and increase the chances of getting infections during the operation.
But people are adults and must make decisions about their own bodies. The removal of pubic hair is a cosmetic decision, not medical, and there are risks. But people have their own way of calculating risks and benefits. I dye my hair, I can irritate the scalp. But I am an adult and I can make an adult decision.
What is harmful is how society imposes hair removal on girls who begin to do so when they are 13 or 14 years old without experiencing a life with pubic hair. So they don't know if sexually that is better for them or not. They think it is abnormal to have pubic hair and that they should remove them. And there is a difference between removing hair and knowing that this is a cosmetic decision.
I am in favor of people making the changes they want in their body, but they must be well informed, know the facts.
5) Does the pill get fat?
This has been extensively studied and a connection has not been found. The studies were performed by doctors taking into account women's concerns. A study that compared women who used the pill with others who used hormone-free copper IUDs showed that they gained weight equally.
This shows us that a change to the contraceptive mode is associated with a modification of eating patterns, but there is no relationship with the pill, it is not something hormonal.
Studies show that the pill itself does not generate weight gain.
The following questions were answered with information from Gunter's book:
6) Should women get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)?
Yes. HPV (a virus that infects the skin and mucous membranes and can cause warts or lesions) is a cause of cervical cancer and other types of cancer, so the vaccine helps prevent it. Ideally, it is administered between the ages of 9 and 12.
"Vaccines are highly effective," says Gunter in the book, "and very safe." More than 200 million doses have been administered worldwide. The diseases attributed to the vaccine "have never appeared in long-term studies."
"It does not mean that girls have no symptoms, it means that their medical condition is not the result of the vaccine."
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Gunter downplays concerns about rumors spread on the Internet regarding the alleged presence of mercury in the vaccine (some vaccines contain ethylmercury, which has been shown to be safe, but the HPV vaccine does not contain the compound) and aluminum: "This has been widely studied almost 100 years ago and it is known that the dose in vaccines is safe."
7) How does a woman know if she has a urinary tract infection?
These tips apply to women who have two or three urinary infections a year. Women with four or more episodes per year have the so-called recurrent urinary infections, and the situation may be different.
There is a good chance of urinary tract infection when there is a higher frequency of visits to the bathroom, and burning when urinating. Some women experience bladder pain and blood in the urine. Not all women have classic symptoms, so diagnosis is difficult. The treatment is with antibiotics.
8) Is it normal to feel pain during sex?
According to "The bible of the vagina," 30% of women suffer pain during vaginal penetration. It is a medical condition: it is not normal for sex to hurt. Many of the causes have treatment. Not all conditions have a cure, but it is almost always possible to reduce pain.
First, a woman experiencing pain during sex should inform her doctor about the causes of pain. There are ten common causes of pain during sexual intercourse, and it is possible to suffer more than one (low estrogen level, hormonal contraceptives, vaginal infection, pelvic floor muscle spasms, vulvar vestibulitis, vulvar skin changes, scars, endometriosis, inflammation in the bladder and mechanical or technical problems).
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