Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Contribute to the Creation of "The Vagina: An Owner's Manual"

Janna Cuneo, a friend of a friend of a friend (don't you love the internet?), works for a family planning clinic in Seattle and is hoping to create an "owner's guide" of sorts on vaginas and women's health. The first phase of her project is figuring out gaps in knowledge, hence a short questionnaire, which is pasted below some information I received via email with more detail.
"I want to put together a reference for women about their vaginas specifically. Let's call it THE VAGINA: AN OWNER'S MANUAL. I'm dreaming up a reference that gives us all a first place to start looking or asking for more information. I think it should be organized by experience, aka a chapter on 'Smells coming from the vagina' or 'Fluids coming from the vagina' or 'when it looks angry on the outside.' I think it should have good solid information about the whys and hows, but references so women can go more in depth if they choose, but don't get overwhelmed by the Merck Manual definitions at first glance. These are my preliminary thoughts. I realize, however, that this project won't work without an accurate idea of where all of our gaps in information are/were. Hence the questionaire below."

Janna asks that you be "be brutually, tact-lessly honest and forthcoming" in your responses, which you can email to vaginabookproject at hotmail dot com. Feel free to forward this around to the other women in your life.

The Questions: (with my answers, to get you started)
1) What do you wish you knew sooner about your vagina?
When everything would happen - hair, periods; what should and should not come from there

2) What do think is missing from a young woman's education about her
reproductive health?

Alternative menstrual products, masturbation, lesbian health, clear info on risks/benefits/efficacy of numerous contraceptives, what rights women have as minors with regards to reproductive health and physician care in general (confidentiality, information that can be given to parents, etc.)

3) What is your number one worry about your vagina (vague or specific)?
That somebody will call my "vulva" my "vagina." :P

4) What is your number one complaint about vaginal care you have recieved?
Lots of women still don't know that they shouldn't douche.

5) If you will have/have had a daughter, what would you/have you thought was the most important info to pass on about the vagina?
Oh, so many things - up front info on periods, infections, STDs, hygiene, alternative menstrual products, etc. What to do in emergencies such as sexual assault. How to perform a self-exam so you can see your own stuff. :)

6) Do you think a project like this is useful/necessary/worth my time? Why or why not?
Yes, if the target audience and the approach are carefully selected to fill in existing holes in the available material

7) What would you do if this was your project? What should I focus on?
I might extend it to be "The Vulva: An Owner's Manual." I would look at as many existing similar manuals (print and online) as I could get my hands on, and try to figure out what is missing.

8) What types of information (charts, definitions, essays, statistics,
diagrams) do you find useful and readable when you are trying to learn about your health?

Definitions. Images. Flowcharts to help decide when urgent or self-care is appropriate. Information that helps me know what to expect.

9) What do you think you still don't know enough about in terms of your vaginal well being?

10) Open space for general peanut gallery commentary!

11) What is your age?

"Just so you know, your name will never be attached to this in any public forum unless you want it to be, this is all very private. My background in all this is as a labor support doula (like a birth coach) for low-income women giving birth, and as a medical assistant in an abortion clinic. I've been working in women's clinics for the last three years, and hopefully some day I'll get myself together and go to grad school for midwifery. Some day."

Some other things you might want to ponder as you respond: (based on my own thoughts so far)
  • Is there an age group, such as pre-teens or teens, or other subset of women that is excluded by other existing products such as Our Bodies, Ourselves?
  • Is there a specific focus this should take to fill existing gaps in readability, tone, comprehensiveness, frankness, or some other factor?

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