On International Women’s Day, naturopathic doctor Marnie Luck regaled a full room with fun and fundamental facts about vaginas. For years, she was a gynecological model, a volunteer for pelvic exams performed by medical students. As comfortable as she was with her own body sexually and with her body being examined by student after student, she realized that she was repeatedly declining their offers during the exams to hold a mirror and see her own cervix. There was a limit to her comfort and her curiosity, and finding that limit was the first step in pushing past it. Now, she helps other women to close the gap in their knowledge about their own bodies.
Here are some fun facts that I learned on the night:
- Vaginas are at their happiest at a slightly acidic pH level. When a woman is ovulating she produces cervical fluid that is alkaline and rich in fructose. This creates a hospitable environment for sperm, which derive energy from the fructose and are protected from the usually acidic environment of the vagina.
- The microflora in the vagina is a baby’s first exposure to the microbiome. As babies pass through the vaginal canal at birth, they are colonized by the beneficial microflora in the vagina. Doctors now pass those benefits on to babies born by C-section by inserting sterile gauze into the mother’s vagina for one hour. After the baby is born, the baby is swabbed with the gauze to expose it to the beneficial microflora.
- During menopause, when estrogen levels decrease, the vagina loses elasticity and lubrication because of the thinning and drying of the vaginal lining. Maintaining blood flow to the vagina and supporting the vaginal tissue can offset these symptoms of vaginal atrophy. Keeping the blood flow to the vagina high by maintaining sexual stimulation (alone or with a partner), using lube, and using bioidentical hormones can all support the vaginal tissue.
- Karen Holek’s The Vulva Project is a collection of casts of her clients’ and her family’s vulvas. (At Sugar Toronto, she sees a lot of them for hair removal!) She had casts of her own, her twin sister’s and her mother’s vulva in the collection. In all the wild diversity of the shapes of vulvas on display, there is a family resemblance! Just as you might all have the same eyes, nose and cheekbones, the appearance of the vulva is also inherited.
The Vagina Dialogues were hosted at The Drake Hotel, and following Marnie’s presentation and lots of great food and drink, there was a panel discussion with a group of empowered and empowering women about women’s health. The women in dialogue about vaginas were Joanna Griffiths, CEO of Knixwear; Dr. Cheryl Rowe, feminist powerhouse and community psychiatrist at Sistering; Viktoria Kalentis of Playful Loving; Joyce Lo, Creative Director of The Drake Hotel; and Chef Charlotte Langley. All of the proceeds of the evening went to support Sistering.
Women helping women. It was a great night.
Sistering is a Toronto women’s drop-in centre, a multi-service agency that helps at-risk, socially isolated women who are homeless or precariously housed. To donate to Sistering, go here.
To find out more about Dr. Marnie Luck, go here.