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The Wonder Down Under – A User’s Guide to the Vagina

All the things you never dared ask

It’s time to demystify the female genitals. Oslo-based medical students and sex educators Dr Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl have decided to lift the veil. With frankness and humour, Brochmann and Dahl tackle periods, discharge, douchebags, contraception, fertility and sex, in all shapes and forms, plus a host of other issues. A breath of fresh air from two hugely inspirational young women, The Wonder Down Under – A User’s Guide to the Vagina has been translated to 33 languages and sailed straight onto the German and French best-seller lists. Is Britain ready for it?

Being a mother of three well into middle-age, much of what Borchmann and Dahl write about was known to me. With backgrounds as sex educators and a wish to reach as many as possible, they start with the basics. That’s not to say that there weren’t things in this book that I didn’t know or found absolutely fascinating. That the physiology involved in severe menstrual pain is similar to that of a heart attack was news to me, for example. No wonder it hurts! Or the battle for pole position between thousands of fertile eggs that takes place in the ovaries before ovulation. It’s not only the sperm that compete, it turns out.

The authors also raise some very interesting points around virginity, the myths that exists about the hymen and argues that it’s time to stop focusing so much on an idea that really was conceived as a way of controlling young women’s behaviour.

…it’s time to talk about the hymen, that mythical structure in the vaginal opening that can still cost women the world over their honour or even their lives based solely on antiquated traditions and misinformation […] The hymen has traditionally been presented as a kind of seal of chastity which, as myth has it, will be broken and bleed when the woman first has sexual intercourse, and only then. […] But this myth, like most others, is totally wrong.

Brochmann and Dahl say the wrote this book with women in their 20s in mind, but their light, engaging writing style (there’s nothing academic about this book, save the considerable amount of research that has gone into writing it) makes it suitable also for girls in their late teens. Of course, people will have different opinions on what’s the right age to introduce their children to these issues, but rest assured that whatever is in this book, there’s a pretty high likelihood they have seen far worse online.

This is not a book that needs to be read from start to finish but rather one to dip in and out of, a book to keep on you shelf as a little genital encyclopaedia. Brochmann and Dahl’s matter-of-factly, honest and incredibly charming way of discussing the most intimate of issues, makes us feel less embarrassed about it all. I would have loved to have had this on my book shelf when I was in my early 20s.

The Wonder Down Under – A User’s Guide to the Vagina is translated by Lucy Mofatt and published by Yellow Kite Books, 260 pages.

Listen to Brochmann and Dahl being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour


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