Sadly, there is great shame and stigma associated with our vaginas. And generally, where there’s shame, there’s fear and misinformation. Thankfully, Dr. Nicole Williams, a Chicago-based, board certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist, is on a mission to educate. In her new book, This Is How You Vagina, she explains simply that all your vagina really needs is soap, water and sunshine. We had the chance to speak to Dr. Williams about common misconceptions about this fascinating organ. See what she had to say below.
MadameNoire: How did you know that now was the right time to write a book?
Dr. Nicole Williams: COVID. I was a lit major. All lit majors we think ourselves authors in the making but as life was going, things were incredibly busy. And it really took the COVID slow down. I always said, ‘If I wrote a book, it would be a pamphlet because all it would say is soap, water and sunshine. It would be three pages and then it would be finished.
I put that in the book at least three different times. Hopefully, people will read that and understand that’s all your vagina really needs: soap, water and sunshine. We suffocate our vaginas all the time with leggings and thongs. You have bacteria living in your vagina, mostly Lactobacillus. And when deprive your vagina of oxygen, you create an environment without oxygen, where the bad bacteria can thrive.
I’ve been doing this for 15 years. At first, I was just answering the questions. But I noticed I was still getting the same questions years later and this is a whole new set of people. I was in high school when these people were born. So that tells me that things have not gotten better for vaginas. And because things have not gotten better, we need to put a work out there that you can reference from an authoritative figure.
MN: Why do you think there’s so much secrecy and shame surrounding the vagina?
Dr. Williams: It’s the mystery of the vagina. Penises and balls are hanging loose and free and you see them and they do things. A vagina is tucked in. You can’t lay it out and look at it. I actually have a lot of historical references. In order to understand where you’re going, you have to understand your history. So that’s one of the things I incorporated, both the history of the vagina and what’s going on right now, in the hopes that we will have a better vagina future.
We need to know that your vagina is basically like your spleen, leave her alone and she’ll be okay. Generally, for the most part.
We overthink our vaginas. But here’s the other thing, it’s not our fault because if you look on the cover of Cosmo, any Instagram meme. It’s talking about how to care for your vagina because she’s so sacred and special. Sure, she’s sacred and special but so is my heart. Do I do anything? No.
It’s media, it’s peers and because peers aren’t well educated, they tell people the wrong things. And it just propagates itself. We have to arrest that and arrest it soon.
MN: What are some of the common misconceptions people have about their vaginas?
Dr. Williams: Oh they think their vaginas are toxic. They think that there is something wrong even if there is the slightest change. But that’s actually not the case. The vagina changes on a daily basis, depending on what you eat, what you drink, what you wear. If your vagina’s healthy, you’re going to have a nice clear discharge. And if it does have a smell, that’s your signature scent. It might change from month to month, with ovulation, sex etc.
That’s what people are concerned about discharge and ‘Am I normal?’
MN: What questions do people have about odor? Do they wonder if it’s normal or do they not want an odor at all?
Dr. Williams: They don’t want an odor at all because society and magazines have told you that your vagina’s supposed to smell like open fields of daisies or powder. No. It’s a human body part. And if it smells like sweat, it’s because you were sweating not because they’re something’s wrong.
MN: In an ideal world, what do you want people to take from the book?
Dr. Williams: I want people to know they’re not alone. As a physician, I’ve cared for thousands of vaginas. There are many other women who have the exact same questions. Recognize there are going to be shifts but overall, if you treat her well: eat right, drink water, don’t sleep in draws. Give her soap, water and sunshine. Protective sex when you’re with a male partner. Generally, your vagina will take care of you.
MN: Do you find a discrepancy in the way your Black patients speak about their vaginas than patients of other races?
Dr. Williams: My African American patients have a lot more fear, ingrained fear about odor and discharge and my practice is split evenly across race.
MN: Why do you think that is?
Dr. Williams: You have to think about how we were raised. Even my mom, I knew the word for urinate. But she didn’t teach me the word vagina. It was kitty cat. So I could urinate but I have kitty cat. That didn’t make sense. Many of us, even though we might vote democratically, we actually have a lot more conservative values. We do not discuss sexuality in our families, in our homes, with our girls.
We should teach our daughters that our vaginas are wonderful. Yes, our vaginas make fluids. But we’re making saliva all the time and nobody says a word about it. Our vaginas can’t swallow so some of it is going to dribble out, it’s really ok.
This Is How You Vagina is out now.