The wonder down under

I read about this book in an article online. It sounded super interesting and insightful so I ordered the book (not on Amazon, because Amazon). Even though the preface says that the target audience is anybody, I think it’s more targeted at women. I would say that at least half of the book was not that interesting to me. There was still tons of interesting bits, some of which you can find below.

The wonder down under: the ultimate guide to female health and empowerment
The wonder down under: the ultimate guide to female health and empowerment

The first part of the book is all about anatomy. For example:

Some studies claim that the G-spot is important for achieving a squirting orgasm, and this leads us to another theory that the G-spot may be linked to a group of glands located between the urethra and the anterior vaginal wall. Known as Skene’s glands, they are the female equivalent of the male prostate, a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra between the bladder and the penis. Skene’s glands are associated with female ejaculation, or squirting orgasms, as they produce liquid that may be released during orgasm — just like the prostate.

We’re all girls with a giant clitoris first:

In fact, the genital tracts of male and female embryos are identical until the 12th week of pregnancy. They are dominated by a kind of mini-penis (or giga-clitoris!) known as the genital tubercle, which has the potential to develop into either a female or male sexual organ. Since the penis and the clitoris both develop from the same basic structure, the two organs share many similarities of form and function.

Women have erections:

And the similarities don’t stop there. Men like to boast about “morning glory” and nightly erections, but women get them too. In a study conducted at the University of Florida in the 1970s, two women with large clitorises were studied and compared with men. The study found that the women had just as many nightly “erections” during deep sleep as the men. Another study found that women had “erections” up to eight times a night, for a combined period of 1 hour, 20 minutes!

We all have 2 assholes:

This hole, correctly called the anus, is a formidable ring of muscle designed to keep gas and faeces in their place until we’re ready to get rid of them. This has clearly been a vital task since time immemorial, as our body comes equipped with not just one, but two sphincters in a row. If one of them lets us down, we have an extra backup.

The inner sphincter is controlled by what is known as the autonomic nervous system — the part of the nervous system we don’t have conscious control over. When the body notices that the rectum is beginning to fill with faeces, signals go out telling the inner sphincter to relax. This is the defecation reflex, which we experience as a sudden urge to find the nearest toilet. If we had only this primitive reflex, we would be pooing all the time the way babies do, but we humans are social creatures. The outer sphincter — the one you can feel if you put a finger in your butt and clench — is the top dog. It’s a voluntary muscle, which ensures that you can hold off until circumstances allow you a little privacy. If you keep clenching for long enough, your body takes the hint and the primal instincts realise they’ve lost. The faeces discreetly withdraws back up into the gut and patiently waits a better occasion.

About 100,000 eggs are wasted before puberty:

The ovaries are like small bags or sacs. We have two of them, one on either side of the uterus, and they have two tasks. The first is to store and mature the eggs, which are the woman’s sex cells, the second is to produce the hormones that control our cycle.

Unlike men, women dont produce new sex cells over the course of their life. At birth, when we first see the light of day, we have about 300,000 eggs. But these eggs are not yet mature. The ones we are born with are, in fact, precursors of fertile eggs. These pre-eggs are already formed by the fifth month of the embryo’s life. Up until puberty, when the menstrual cycle starts up, these pre-eggs will rehearse for their future task. They begin to mature in batches, but since they don’t receive the ovulation signal from the brain, they simply end up dying. In massive numbers. By the time we reach puberty, we’ve lost over a third of our eggs to these practice runs and are left with an exclusive group of around 180,000 eggs. By the time we are 25, we have approximately 65,000 left. These eggs must patiently await their turn, and will mature and be released one menstrual cycle after another.

Now perhaps you’re thinking it’s peculiar that we have 180,000 eggs at the start of puberty. We’re obviously not going to have periods that many times over the course of our lives, so what are we doing with tens of thousands of eggs? The truth — and this came as a surprise to us as well — is that we can actually use up to 1,000 eggs every single month, not just one. The number used each month varies and slows down significantly the older we are. That’s how the numbers add up if you’ve tried to do the maths. In other words, the difference between our eggs and the man’s sperm isn’t as vast as it’s often made out to be. For women, as for men, multiple sex cells fight a hard battle among themselves for the right to try and make a baby. So, every month a battalion of eggs begin to mature, but only one exclusive egg matures enough to make it through security and is selected to be released from the ovary. The rest are brutally rejected and destroyed.

Why there can be any flavor of gender:

Uppermost in the genital area lies the genital tubercle. It looks a bit like a mini-penis, doesn’t it, or perhaps a clitoris? In fact, it can become either.

For the gender-neutral embryonic genitalia to develop into male sex organs, the embryo needs everything to go according to plan over the course of just a few critical days pretty early in the pregnancy. The embryo must be influenced by male sex hormones at precisely the right time: the most important hormone in this game is testosterone, which is only produced if the embryo has a Y chromosome. If this embryo isn’t influenced by testosterone — most often because of an error in one or more of the boy embryo’s genes — the genital area automatically forms into a vulva. And that leaves you with a genetic boy who has the sex organs of a girl.

Discharge is way more “normal” than I thought:

Normally, between a half and whole teaspoonful of discharge will seep out over the course of the day, although this varies depending on the individual woman as well as the point she is at in her menstrual cycle. Some women using hormonal contraception find that their discharge levels increase, as do pregnant women. The consistency of the discharge will also vary, ranging from a runny liquid to a slimy, thread-like substance that looks like egg white just before ovulation.

The synchronised periods myth:

One charming myth that nas been doing the rounds since the early 1970s is that women’s periods synchronise when they live for along time under the same roof. Our bodies supposedly have a telepathic power that causes us to bond through cramps and chocolate cravings. It was a Harvard psychologist who believed she had proved this after studying the menstrual cycles of women living in the same dorm at college in the USA. Evolutionary researchers pounced on it, taking the view that there was a benefit to women menstruating and ovulating at the same time: men wouldn’t be tempted to hop from one woman to another but would form stable couple relationships instead. As many as 80 per cent of all women apparently believe in the myth of synchronised periods.

But no matter how cute it sounds, more recent research shows that we’ve been had. Studies of lesbian couples, Chinese women living in dorms and West African women placed in “menstrual huts” showed no synchronicity. Although we may seem to be menstruating in sync, this is because there’s considerable variation in cycle length from one woman to the next. If you and your best friend menstruate at the same time, it’s most likely just a matter of chance and not, sadly, a sign that you have a special bond.

The 1,000 eggs vs. millions of sperm cells war:

an equally heroic battle is waged between the egg cells a between the sperm cells, but for some reason or another, we’re not told about that in school. Follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) don’t just affect one egg follicle each month. As you now know, up to 1,000 follicles begin to grow and mature every month, but only one of the very largest ones will have the pleasure of exploding and releasing its egg. The others wither away and die without ever having the chance to meet a sperm cell. Now perhaps you think 1,000 follicles competing isn’t as tough as what the sperm cell is exposed to — after all, they have to race against millions! Remember, though, that men produce many millions of sperm cells every single day, whereas we women are born with all the eggs we’ll ever have — and they run out.

Why, we ask ourselves, are egg cells (from women) presented as passive and sperm cells (from men) as active when this absolutely doesn’t correspond to reality?

If so many things have to go right to get pregnant, you wonder why accidental pregnancies are so common:

When the man has an orgasm, many millions of sperm cells are squirted up into the woman’s vagina. Most of them die after a short time; the majority by running out of the vagina after sex or by swimming off into some dark corner of it. Very few sperm cells manage to find the cervical opening, and even then, it’s all a matter of timing. Most of the time, the cervical opening is, in fact, closed by a thick, gelatinous mucus plug that the body produces in response to naturally high levels of progesterone. Only around ovulation does the mucus plug dissolve, opening the passageway into the uterine cavity. In the days before ovulation, you may even notice this since your discharge changes, and contains elastic threads of mucus! This mucus, which is similar to egg white, can be stretched to incredible lengths between your fingers if you fancy trying.

When ovulation approaches, the progesterone level diminishes and the body produces more oestrogen. The oestrogen causes the cervical opening to produce a runny, watery fluid instead of gelatinous slime and this makes it possible for the sperm cells to swim up into the uterine cavity. Again, you can observe this from your discharge, which becomes more runny and milky when vou are ovulating and so at your most fertile.

One day after fertilisation, the fertilised egg will still be floating around in one of the Fallopian tubes, but now the cells have begun to divide. Even so, this is no guarantee that you will become pregnant. For the pregnancy to be successful, the growing cluster of cells must find its way down into the uterus and attach itself to the mucous membrane on the wall of the uterus at the right time.

It takes between seven and ten days from fertilisation for the cluster of cells to attach itself to the lining of the uterus.

But it’s of course not all just biology:

For many women, desire is actually responsive; in other words, it arises precisely as a result of intimate touch or sexual situation. Physical excitement precedes desire, you might say, and so these women are more dependent on foreplay and nearness to flip the switch. Women with responsive desire have low interest in sex and take little initiative in bed; but they still have the capacity to have marvellous sex once they get going. Desire just needs to be nursed along a little more carefully.

The American sex researcher Emily Nagoski has taken up the banner of educating women about responsive desire. In her book Come As You Are, she claims that nearly one in three women have a responsive form of sexual desire. At the opposite end of the scale, there are the 15 per cent who have the “classic”, spontaneous form of sexual desire, in which you feel a desire for sex out of the blue. All the other women are somewhere in between the two. Now and then, they fancy having sex without quite understanding why, whereas other times, sex sounds like a bit of a drag until they feel their body responding and their head slowly joins the party.

The human brain makes everything complicated:

Among men, there’s around a 65 per cent correspondance between how hard their penis becomes and how horny they feel. So the head is mostly on the same page as the automatic responses of the male sex organ. Aha, I’m hard so I must want sex, thinks the man. (Of course, this is a simplification. Men can also become hard without having any desire whatsoever for sex, as with the well-known phenomenon of morning glory, or teenage boys getting a boner when they have to go up to the blackboard and show the workings of a calculation.) Men’s desire is pretty closely connected to the shenanigans of the penis, so pills like Viagra work incredibly well when men are struggling to “get it up”. Viagra doesn’t work on the brain, but simply ensures that the veins carrying blood back out of the penis become constricted, making the penis grow harder and more engorged with blood. This is more, than enough — if you get the penis onside, the job’s mostly done.

In women, however, it’s been found there’s only a 25 percent overlap between the head and the workings of the sex organs. The connection is so minor that it’s simply impossible to say anything at all about how far a woman feels sexual desire based on how wet or engorged her sex organs are. A woman’s genitals swell and grow wet from seeing men having with men and apes in full swing, but she won’t necessarily feel turned on as a result. The woman’s genitals also respond strongly to lesbian sex, often more than to hetero sex. More disturbingly, it has been observed that women can become physically excited and experience orgasm during assaults. What does this mean? That women actually dig ape sex, or that some girls like to be raped?

No, no and no again! It means that women, unlike men, have a much higher degree of what sex researchers call “arousal non-concordance” or “subjective-genital (dis)agreement”. These complicated words actually just mean that there isn’t any correspondance between the brain and the nether regions when it comes to desire. The two body parts evidently don’t speak the same language and women with a very low degree of desire score highest of all; their brains are almost incapable of picking up the signals of their genitals.

More on the power of the brain:

In a Viagra study, 40 per cent of the women ho were given sugar pills were seen to have experienced an improvement in sexual desire. By taking a pill, they entered into a new mode and a new role — they managed to break out of old, ingrained patterns in which the identified themselves as people who didn’t want sex.

We have one signal that tells us to “drive”, known as excitation, and another that tells us to “brake”, or inhibition. The balance between the signals indicating excitation and those indicating inhibition determines what the brain will decide to do with the body at any given time. If you’re pushing the brake to the floor, it doesn’t make any difference if you accelerate a bit at the same time. The sum effect is what counts.

Imagine that each of the reasons preventing you from wanting sex — consciously or unconsciously — puts a little pressure on the brake. Examples could include stress, depression, poor body image, feelings of guilt and fear of not achieving orgasm. All these slight pressures on the brake can build up so that the brake ends up pressed to the floor, bringing things to a complete halt. To relieve this heavy pressure on the brake, our brains need to receive an even more powerful signal telling us to “drive” — for example love and pleasure. The reward must be greater than the effort. Now and then, this happens by itself, for example when we’re in love; but otherwise our task is to ensure that the “drive” signals dominate and that the brake is as weak as possible. This sounds pretty vague, but there’s actually no mystery about it. The first step is acknowledging that sexual desire is not something that arises of its own accord, or a constant character trait you were bort with. After that, you must sit down and think through what turns you off and on. Do what Nagoski suggests: make a list — here are some ideas.

What turns me off? Having sex right before I go to sleep because then I worry I won’t be properly rested for the the next day. Feeling down or sad. Fear that my partner will try to have sex when I don’t feel like it and then I‘ll have to reject him/her again. Uncertainty about the relationship. Jealousy. Routine sex when I know exactly what’s going to happen. The expectation that I must come for my partner to feel like a good lover. Stress or worry about things I should have done, but didn’t get round to during the day. Feeling ugly. Feeling dirty as I haven’t showered. When we check our mobiles in bed.

Freud was an ass:

The distinction between vaginal and clitoral orgasms and the elevation of the vaginal as the true orgasm is quite simply a pretty modern, male invention. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, proposed a new theory in 1905 that viewed the clitoral orgasm as the immature, young woman’s form of orgasm. It was the kind of thing that should only happen in a little girl’s bedroom. As soon as the girl got a sniff of a male member, her interest in the clitoris should vanish and be replaced by a burning desire or penetration. The fusion of man and woman was the only healthy form of sex, and the only form that should give women pleasure. Real women, according to Freud, had vaginal orgasms.

A physiological explanation why women don’t like one-night stands?

Another thing that has a major influence on women’s capacity to have orgasms is the context in which they have sex. Nearly all women have little chance of reaching orgasm during a one-night stand. American college students responded that only one in ten had an orgasm the first time they slept with a new partner, whereas almost 70 per cent of the girls had an orgasm when they’d been in a relationship for more than six months.

Sterilisation is not the most effective contraception:

Many people think that sterilisation is the most effective thing you can do if you don’t want to have (more) children. When a woman is sterilised, her Fallopian tubes are cut so that the egg cannot pass from the ovary to the uterus, but even after sterilisation one in 200 women becomes pregnant in the following year. Both the contraceptive implant and the hormonal IUD are more effective than that.

There is a lot about contraception. It’s complicated!

The numbers 21 and 7 or 24 and 4 are immensely important when it comes to combined contraception because they mark two important limits.

When you use combined contraception, you must take hormones fro at least 21 or 24 days for the contraceptive to be effective. If you use hormones for fewer than 21 or 24 days in a row — for example if you forget the two last pills in the pack and end up with 19 or 22 days instead of 21 or 24 — there’s a danger that you’ll lost your protection and ovulate. Then you could become pregnant. So, 21 or 24 days of hormones means at least 21 or 24 days. There’s no problem with using hormones for longer — as long as you’re over the limit you can take the pills for 30, 50 or 100 days in a row. It’s entirely up to you.

The number 7 (or 4 if you’re using Zoely or Eloine) is a limit that means the break can be a maximum of 7 or 4 days; it must not be longer. If you take a longer break from the hormones than this, you will not be protected against pregnancy. There’s no problem with taking a break of, say, three days. If, for example, you have short bleeding, for only two days, you can start on hormones again after just a two-day break. But you must never take a longer than seven or four days (depending on with type you are on). If you do, you may ovulate and then you’re in danger of becoming pregnant.

Abortion laws are an aberration:

A common source of confusion when it comes to abortion is how far along you are. Many countries have abortion laws that involve time limits; for example, abortion on demand is allowed up to and including week 12 (in England, Scotland and Wales it’s 24 weeks; women from Northern Ireland need to seek abortions in England). But when are you 12 weeks pregnant? You’d think it would be calculated from the date you had unprotected sex, but incredibly enough, that’s not the case. Instead, it is calculated from the first day of your last period. This is because that’s the last point in time you knew for sure that you weren’t pregnant. Seen from this perspective, the law considers you to be “pregnant” for two weeks before you even had the intercourse that made you pregnant. Not entirely logical but that’s the way the rules work.

A bit about menstrual pain:

The uterus is strong — a bit too strong for its own good, perhaps. It squeezes so tight that it can’t catch its breath and that hurts! Now, of course your uterus doesn’t actually breathe — only your lungs do that — but all the cells in your body need oxygen. Without that, they’d suffocate and die. The oxygen is carried in the bloodstream and what happens during menstrual cramps is that the uterus clenches its muscles too tightly and simply shuts off its own blood supply in the process. It is that eager to get rid of the old endometrium. It’s the lack of oxygen to the tissue that’s the cause of the pain.

Everybody has herpes…

We don’t know exactly how many people are infected with herpes in total because there isn’t any register. But for once it’s almost correct to say that everybody has it, unlike that time you tried to convince your parents that everybody else had a Game Boy and that you had to have one too. It is believed that as many as 70 per cent are infected with HSV-1 and 40 per cent with HSV-2. You may be infected with both types or just one of them. On top of that, it’s possible that an even larger share of the population has herpes, A lot of those who are infected don’t know a thing about it, because not everybody gets the associated problems.

…which means that:

Finally, we need to talk a bit about a difficult problem connected with herpes: herpes in a relationship. Let’s say that neither you nor your partner has had herpes blisters before. Not on your mouth, not on your genitals. You’ve been together for three years and have a fantastic relationship. And then it happens. You get a severe outbreak of blisters on your genitals and think the worst. You haven’t been with anybody, so your partner must have been, mustn’t he or she?

As you now know, you won’t necessarily be aware that you have herpes. It’s not a given that you had an outbreak of blisters when you were infected. You may have had herpes for a long time without having any visible signs. It’s also quite possible you could have been infected by one of your partner’ invisible outbreaks. In other words, infidelity need not have come into the picture at all! As we have already said, herpes is common and you don’t necessarily know you have it. We have seen relationships ruined by unfounded accusations of infidelity after one partner has a herpes outbreak. Of course, it’s possible infidelity may have been involved, but herpes is no proof of that. If you don’t have any other reason to doubt your partner, herpes shouldn’t be the factor that sows the seeds of distrust.