Category: News

Chloroform, Cocaine, Dilators, and Electricity: The Medical Profession and the History of “Fixing” Female Sexual Dysfunction

Going to a doctor, you generally expect a remedy to your problem. In fact, some times you might demand a cure even when there may not be one. (Now, be honest- How often have you visited a doctor’s office with a cold or a stomach virus and said, “But I don’t want it to run it’s course! Isn’t there something you can give me to make me better?!?”) Pain during sex can prompt visits, however uncomfortable they might be, to your general practitioner, urologist, or gynecologist. And, you expect results. After all, problems in bed can lead to other consequences- strain in the relationship, inability to conceive, linking sex with negativity rather than pleasure or enjoyment. Yet, barring an obvious physical problem, pain during sex, for women, is usually classified as vaginismus or dyspareunia- both mental disorders.

This view of female sexual dysfunction probably wouldn’t be as disturbing if this didn’t have sexist roots dating back over a century….

Wonder Woman Wields a Speculum

Like many graduate students, I obsess about my particular academic interests and have a hard time letting them go at the end of the day. I happen to study the history of women and medicine in the United States, so I see my specialization everywhere, often to the dismay of my friends and family. I interrupt movies to point out inaccuracies and anachronisms, and I offer unsolicited historical commentary about the depictions of women on Mad Men. I lecture people about the stupidity of 1950s nostalgia, and I get angry about advertisements for Dr. Pepper. I am, in short, lots of fun at parties.

Here We Go Again…

Here we go again. That sound you hear is millions of Americans gasping and clutching their pearls over the new Time Magazine cover story on attachment parenting. The blogosphere is already atwitter with comments of disgust, outrage, and shock over the photo of an attractive mother nursing her 5 (ish) year-old-son. Let’s be honest here, however you might feel about older children breastfeeding, the picture is clearly meant to shock – it is intended to stir the pot. In fact the cover, incredibly enough, manages to alienate all mothers – either you are put on display as a freak that over-parents, or you are shamed for not parenting enough. The headline says it all: “Are you Mom Enough?” It might as well say, “You Will Never be Good Enough – Regardless of your Parenting Choices – We Will Always Judge You. Happy Mother’s Day!” (OK, maybe that title is a bit too long.)

Fifty Shades of Healthy Sex

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

There is much ado these days about E.J. James’ Fifty Shades series. While some folks are defending it as sex-positive, others condemn it for promoting female powerlessness and submission. The problem with much of the commentary is that since nobody wants to be a jerk and give away the story, most stop at the Red Room of Pain and the BDSM contract between 27-year-old Christian Grey and 21-year-old Anastasia Steele.

Lysol, The Pill, and the Duggars: Contraception and Controversy in American History

By Jacqueline Antonovich

I recently read Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion, a fascinating biography by historian Jean H. Baker. As a historian of gender and medicine, I thought I knew all about Sanger and her quest to make birth control legal and accessible to the women of America; however, I found myself utterly shocked by one simple fact from Sanger’s background – her mother, Anne, was pregnant eighteen times in twenty-two years, which resulted in eleven live births.