vulva

On Sex Work, No One Gets It More Wrong Than the New York Times’ OB/GYN

The ‘Gray Lady’s gynecologist’ needs an anatomy lesson

A few weeks ago, I walked into the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s top trade association and my place of employment, to find my coworker Ian completely pissed off. The source of his ire: Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN, blue-checkmarked Twitter personality and New York Times columnist who refers to herself as “the Gray Lady’s gynecologist.” She touts her expertise on the vagina and purports that she has what she calls a “lasso of truth.” 

Her lasso, however, must not be have been swinging that day. Because in a now deleted tweet, she claimed, “Most women get [a] small labia in porn through surgery and reducing labia means taking away a sexually responsive body part only for the pleasure of men.”

To be clear, Dr. Jen didn’t cite a medical study or conduct any clinical research on this topic. Nor did she consult any porn performers. (She actually doesn’t even like porn, at least according to some other things she’s written.) And so, as a porn performer who hasn’t taken any surgical measures to alter my vulva, I couldn’t regard her statement as anything other than hateful (and maybe envious). 

This bias, though, is troubling coming from a doctor, especially a relatively famous one who chose to use her platform to amplify false information about porn. (As adult performers, it feels like we’re constantly being spoken over and lied about by outside forces that use the degradation of our employment as a means to further their own agenda.) It was also completely hypocritical given that Dr. Jen once wrote a piece for the Times titled “My Vagina Is Terrific. Your Opinion About It Is Not.” 

It didn’t take long then, for me to be as angry as Ian:

After tweeting at her, I desperately searched for other voices of reason within the thread. Thankfully, I found that I wasn’t the only vagina-having adult performer that disagreed with Dr. Jen’s assertion. Bailey Paige, a Florida-based performer, challenged Dr. Jen, too:

The same went for Pepper Hart, who wrote in the thread: “Lol what! I have followed you for years and you never sounded so bad. I was born this way. … I have professional experience studying plastic surgery outcomes and even more licking pussy and you are Just Talking Out Yer Ass.”

Dr. Jen, of course, ignored us. In fact, the only response she gave on the entire thread (before she deleted it) was directed at David Ley, a licensed clinical psychologist, sex researcher and author of Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure, who attempted to provide links to examples of why her assumptions about porn were wrong. One such link was to a research study called “Exposing Men’s Gender Role Attitudes as Porn Super Fans,” which “calls into question some of the claims that porn consumption fosters de facto negative and hostile attitudes toward women.” 

Yet in her response to Ley, Dr. Jen spun the conversation to reflect a “men-versus-women” argument that presents porn performers as a problem amid the battle of the sexes

My bigger issue with her tweet, though, is that it recklessly pushes the stereotype that adult performers are abnormal, and that we don’t exist for ourselves or our own pleasure but solely to be subject to the male gaze. This simply isn’t true: Porn doesn’t dictate every choice I make hygienically or aesthetically. Porn is great entertainment, which may sometimes influence my sexual desires, but it doesn’t go further than that — for me or the general populace. 

Because if Dr. Jen had taken the time to read some of the links Ley provided — as opposed to dismissing them — she might have realized, for instance, that “interest in hairless pubic regions was influenced by evolutionary selection issues,” or you know, not porn or a porn performer’s unceasing attempt to heighten male desire, proving that “pubic hair removal is not a unique or new historical phenomenon.” 

Moreover, two other studies (“‘To Shave or Not to Shave’: Pubic Hair Removal and Its Association With Relational and Sexual Satisfaction in Women and Men and “Women’s Engagement in Pubic Hair Removal: Motivations and Associated Factors”) both show that “women who engage in public hair removal report higher feelings of femininity, and both males and females who do so report higher levels of sexual satisfaction. Females who do shave report more interest in receiving cunnilingus, and view pubic hair removal as a strategy to pursue their own sexual fulfillment.” 

Not to mention, as Ley pointed out to me, “I might also have pointed out the many porn performers who attain popularity through having larger clitorises or labia, in contrast to [Dr. Jen’s] expectations. My friend Rikochan is one, whose genitalia would not meet Jen’s description.” 

Or as my fellow adult performer Sovereign Syre put it: 

Let me underscore what Sovereign is saying here: When Dr. Jen ignores the facts people like me are trying to share with her (i.e., porn performers), she provides a perfect example of just how eliminated from conversations of our own sexual health we are. Worse yet, she blatantly demonstrates how little trust we can have in those who practice medicine (too many medical professionals regard us with too much contempt to take our health concerns seriously).

This is why the adult industry has found it more successful to self-regulate, self-educate and provide self-care tools for each other. It’s why we have our own STI testing system that prevents us from having to share private medical info when sharing test results to determine shoot readiness. It’s why the Free Speech Coalition has partnered with NexGen to provide our members with access to health care, vision and dental discounts, legal assistance, roadside assistance and a 24-hour tele-doctor. It’s why groups such as Cupcake Girls and Pineapple Support, which provide mental health care access exclusively to adult performers, have popped up in recent years. And it’s why we have the performer-led and -created social group APAC that hosts monthly meetings in an attempt to form a more tight-knit community within the adult industry. 

So I guess I actually owe Dr. Jen a thank you. Thank you for reminding me why we can never count on someone like you, and that the only people we can ever really count on are each other.