My Vagina Is Terrific. Your Opinion About It Is Not.

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My Vagina Is Terrific. Your Opinion About It Is Not.

Rites of Passage

There is rash of men explaining vaginas to me.

That is what I have decided to name a collective of mansplainers. A murder of crows, a parliament of owls, a rash of mansplainers. In medicine a rash can be a mild annoyance that goes away and never returns. A rash can also portend a serious medical condition, even something malignant.

There have always been a few men here and there explaining vaginas to me. I have suffered fools eager to use pickup lines about being an amateur gynecologist, detailing their imagined superior knowledge of female anatomy and physiology. Men who think sitting beside them at a bar and smiling — because if you don’t smile, you get told to smile — is an invitation to tell you how they will make you scream and moan.

I know that many other women have had their vaginas explained to them, because for the past 25 years my career has been dedicated to treating vaginal and vulvar problems. I have listened to women with completely normal exams weep that they have been told that they do not smell or taste correctly. That they are too wet, or too loose, or too gross.

These women all shared something: They were told these things by men. While I admit this is anecdotal data, my years of listening to secret shame about healthy vaginas and vulvas seems to suggest it is largely, if not entirely, male partners who exploit vaginal and vulvar insecurities as a weapon of emotional abuse and control.

But it was the Vicks VapoRub that put me over the edge.

Around the internet I am known as the gynecologist who debunks unnecessary and often harmful vaginal trends. Vaginal steaming, douches, glitter, tightening sticks — these are all born from the same need to tame the normal female genital tract. Whether these products are sold by big companies or a lone purveyor on Etsy, whether sold as medicinal in drugstores or marketed under the guise of “natural” and artisanal by brands like Goop, the intent is the same: to monetize intimate fears about intimate places. The idea is to profit from our society’s inability to have public, non-sophomoric discussions about the vagina and vulva. These products and their messages are no different from the Lysol ads of the 1950s telling women they could be like the “the girl he married” again.

Now, apparently, folks were suggesting that it was a good idea to put a mentholated petroleum product in one’s vagina. (It is not.)

Fed up, I wrote the story of how a man had tried to shame me about my healthy vagina. Once, I had dated a man who told me I would be desirable, if only my hair were straight, or if only I lost the weight, or if only I dressed differently. The metric for my supposed perfection kept changing, so it was a herculean task to keep up with my failings, which I now gather was the point.

But while I may not have complete confidence in my appearance, I have professional confidence in spades. There are few people, if any, who know more about the lower genital tract than I do. So when this man began to tell me how my healthy vagina could be better, I dumped him.

It didn’t seem weird or overly personal to write this one paragraph about my experience. I talk about vaginas all day long. It is the inability to talk about vaginas without shame that is at the very core of genital-tract profiteering. If a gynecologist who specializes in vulvar and vaginal health can’t talk about it, then who can? I have revealed details of my son’s death, and that feels far more intimate and emotionally daring to me.

What happened next was an article showed up in the The New York Post with the incorrect headline “My boyfriend dumped me because of my vagina smell,” accompanied with a big picture of me. The article itself was accurate — easy enough, since it was essentially quotations from my blog.

And then the men came. They came to share their opinions regarding my vagina, writing on my blog and at me on Twitter. They flocked to my Instagram and my Facebook. One group of gentlemen, in at least their 40s, even decided that this story of me being dumped supposedly because of my vagina was worthy of a laugh on their podcast.

This rash bombarded me in both public and private comments. Men wondered if I had washed “that thang yet?” One man wrote that I “must be INTO smelly ones! How nice for you — we prefer FRESH as a daisy ones!” Another man warned me that “We men had a meeting, all 3.5 billion of us.” At the meeting they had apparently decided to “double down on calling out” my smelly vagina.

A man said I should call my ex and thank him “for alerting me to my smelly vagina.” There was also the #notallmen contingent, who felt it was impossible that my personal experience and 25 years as a gynecologist could offer any evidence that men ever try to control women by preying on insecurities. Obviously it was just my vagina that stank.

More men sought me out to explain vaginas to me. They gave me false information on how to clean and prep them (for men, of course), and told me how gross my vagina must be, and hurled insults that I cannot print here.

The state of my healthy vagina brought more scorn from men than anything I have ever written about — and I write about second trimester abortions, so that is saying something.

To the women who have been told they were too wet, too dry, too messy, too smelly, too gross, too saggy or too bloody, I have heard you. I know you stand in drugstores wondering why there are all these hygiene products if they are unnecessary. I know you stare into the internet and wonder, if celebrities say they steam their vaginas, or have 10-step vaginal prep regimens, then maybe vaginal neglect really is a flaw that ruins relationships.

All I can say is, if you have a medical concern, see a doctor. And: If someone speaks to you about your body with anything but kindness and concern, it is he who has a problem. And: The vagina is like a self-cleaning oven.

To the rash of mansplainers and The New York Post, thank you. This experience proves that shaming women about physiologically normal and functioning vaginas is epidemic. The cure for this rash is information. You can either listen and learn or you can take a seat in the back of class and shut up. The era in which men can shame women for their perfectly healthy vaginas is now coming to an end.