A trip down the Vagina

Something interesting happened last week. I wrote this blog about the vagina and send it to my husband/editor. He said it made him nauseous and decided to edit the Ebola story instead. What happened to our world that we prefer to read about the agonizing deaths of thousands of people instead of reading about a little vaginal discharge?
This week there wasn’t a second option though. Let’s hear what you think!

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Oh, the vagina. What a wonderful thing to have. But sometimes it’s not. Half of the population has one but somehow, we are afraid to discuss this very common organ. Better to ask someone how they are recovering from a brain seizure, to explain the pain of kidney stones or to share that you have fungal infection of the foot, then to ask about any kind of infection concerning the vagina. 49,6% of the world population knows about, but rarely talks about. Many of the other 50,4% in the world think they know about and only talk about it platitudes. Let’s share some truths about the vagina: sometimes things get smelly, itchy, red, hairy, floppy, tight, wider, wet or dry. You never know what will happen tomorrow.

There, I’ve said it. Now continue and break some taboo’s!

Act of Pheromones

All grown up women have pubic hair. All of them. Yes, some are enrolled in the tiring fight against hair, shaving, waxing or whatever. But it always comes back. Why do we have it? Pubic hair is said to have two functions. The first is to cause less friction during the “physical act of love” (Friends quote, sorry), the second assumption is that the hair makes sure all the lovely smelling pheromones are nicely distributed to the environment, especially future sexual partners.
A recent study by the way revealed that women who shave all their pubic hair have more risk of STD’s than with pubic hair, implying a protective function. I think this has more to do with the idea that a bald vagina is more likely to be found in single woman with multiple sexual partners. But this could be pure speculation.

Floppy awareness

All women have two sets of labia. From the day they were born. Two outer labia, and two, more floppy, inner ones. This labia issue is a big thing nowadays. The outer labia, everyone is cool with, but those inner ones… Some cultures encourage girls to pull these labia frequently to increase the floppiness as it is considered beautiful.
In Western countries we have a different labia fashion sense. Influenced by the porn movies we think that any asymmetry or floppiness down there is strange and should be resolved by surgically “correcting” this mistake. That is so stupid. As a famous philosopher once said: “different people, different pussies, especially the men”. Can we please agree that every woman looks different down there and also that there are NO mistakes. Stop cutting up healthy women please!

In the gland scheme of things

Located just in the top of the vagina where the two inner labia meet is a little – for some women bigger, but that’s ok, remember the famous philosopher –  nob. That nob is what is left of a possible penis when we were just a fetus and randomness determined whether we would become a boy or a girl, and it turned out to be the latter. That is also why men have nipples.
A woman’s clitoris is just as sensitive as the tip of the penis. But wait, there’s more, at least in most of the penises… A penis consists of two swelling glands. That fill up when aroused and cause the erection. Same for the vagina. Attached to the clitoris are two of these glands that go to either side. When properly aroused – whatever makes you tick ladies,  probably not by a man saying ‘doing you wanna?’ – these glands swell and so will the clitoris. Making it easier to find… hint, hint…

Opening up and let go

Further down we first encounter the urethra opening, that is where the pee comes out, and then the actual vagina. It’s the small hole where the penis goes in and a baby head (!) can come out. Amazing right?

In order to keep this opening open and smooth, your vagina makes a discharge. Every woman has vaginal discharge. It’s usually white/transparent, not a strong smell and not buckets full. This discharge is made by the lactobacilli, which is also found in yoghurt and yakult, enjoy your breakfast. The lactobacilli keep the pH of your vagina nice and sour and bacteria unfriendly. Without the discharge you would get bacterial and fungal infections every day. Washing this part with anything other than water will mess up your normal system and increase your risk of infection. Even those “special” soaps are a bad idea. Not needed! You’re not supposed to smell like box full flowers and strawberries down there!
If the discharge gets a color, has a foul smell or different consistency, go see a doctor or a pharmacist. Chances are you have an infection. No worries, it is easily treated. If not treated you get pain, itching, pain during sex, fishy smells and you are more susceptible to STD’s.

Don’t feel ashamed about this. Every doctor has seen young girls and grown up women, itching, nervous and embarrassed, that washed themselves with stuff like lactacid every day and used a vaginal shower after sex. Every doctor heard many of these complaints and are happy to talk about yours and help you.

So there you have it. What have we learned? All women are similar yet somewhat different. Looking like a Pornstar shouldn’t be a goal in life. Water is the best cleaning method for your most precious organ. Oh, and don’t be afraid to discuss these things with your doctor.

Ebola – why not to kiss dead people

Once upon a time, well actually 1976, in the beautiful country of Zaire, now Congo, there was a river named Ebola. In a small town a couple of miles from the river a crisis emerged when people started dying fast and horribly. The nuns in the town took care of the sick people but they too became ill. What was going on? If you guessed this wrong, wow, impressive.

Nun’s blood

The river town people somehow managed to send some vials of a nun’s blood. It was travelling on a normal commercial flight, in a thermos bottle, just in the hand luggage. For the youngsters: those were the days that no airline was worrying about bringing liquids on the plane. First stop, the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium (Zaire was a former Belgian colony).

When the Belgians took out the vials and put under their microscope they saw “a gigantic worm like structure – gigantic by viral standards (…) a very unusual shape for a virus.” The virus looked like a virus called the “Marburg virus”. This virus had been infecting laboratory people in the German city Marburg after they had worked in Uganda with ill monkeys. The Marburg virus was also known to be very deadly. After sharing this information, the World Health Organization told them to immediately send samples to a British military laboratory and to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. In the end it was the CDC that proved that although it looked similar to Marburg, it was a totally new disease.

Outbreaks
Ebola causes an outbreak every so often. The outbreaks often start from one person that gets infected by an animal. The symptoms are witnessed after a couple of days. First some that compare to how you feel the day after a night of heavy drinking and karaoke singing: sore throat, muscular pain and headaches. Then symptoms you might have expected earlier, probably at the karaoke bar, instead of days later: vomiting and diarrhea. Then the most frightening thing happens: you start bleeding from every pore, from the biggest one (yep, that one) to ones so small you didn’t even know you had them. After one or two weeks the person is dead. Well, in reality on average 50% of the persons die. But I don’t think that this percentage really comforting.

In fact: Ebola is killing its victims so quick, the outbreaks, as terrible as they are, usually outrun themselves. Simply because there are no more people left to infect.

Anybody who crosses here may die

In 1976, one of the Belgian doctors Peter Piot was send to the village to do some true epidemiology research. In his own words: “I was so excited about seeing Africa for the first time, about investigating this new virus and about stopping the epidemic.” Excitement was probably not really what the sick people were looking for, but I have to admit that from a professional perspective I understand the emotion.
Peter Piot also mentioned that when he got to the town two weeks after the outbreak there was a barrier with a sign saying: “Please stop, anybody who crosses here may die.” A true dare for even the most adventurous thrill seekers.

The medical team discovered many things, like pregnant women were injected with vitamins (that is a good thing) using just five needles to inject everyone (not a good idea…). One interesting fact they also noticed was that people were getting ill after attending funerals.

Don’t kiss dead people

Ebola is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids. And because there is a lot of this leaking bodily fluid, it is very easy for the Ebola virus to infect other people. When someone dies from Ebola, the body is still full of the virus. Any direct contact, such as washing or preparation of the deceased without protection can be a serious risk. Moreover, in a lot of African cultures it is tradition to kiss the deceased at the funeral.

The 2014 Outbreak : West Africa

In 2014 the outbreak got bigger and hit the worldwide news. It all started with a child that got infected, probably by eating bush meat, and died. The funeral took place on the border of Guinee, Sierra Leone and Liberia and people form everywhere joined. Maybe the child was kissed, maybe not, but sure thing the disease spread when the guests went back.

By the time the authorities were notified a shocking thing happened. People didn’t understand the disease. After almost 40 years of Ebola Outbreaks information about it was still lacking in villages in Guinee, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The common understanding about the disease was: if you go to the hospital, you die. The scary outfits of the medical staff probably didn’t help either. This resulted in sick and infected people hiding from the medical personnel in order not to get killed in the hospital. Thus, spreading the infection further and further.

In order to control an epidemic like this, good medical personnel just isn’t enough. You need community engagement and you need education. Preferably from local people that everybody knows and trusts.

And please, don’t kiss dead people if you don’t know how or why they died.

 

 

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28262541

Picture credit: Nahid Bhadelia/CDC