Five Things You Should Know About the Three Vs

anatomy, books, Language

Guest post by Kati Bicknell, Kindara

Now I know in the title of this post I say “Five things you probably don’t know about your vagina,” but really it’s about more than your vagina. The V Book, by Elizabeth Gunther Stewart and Paula Spencer, is basically the owner’s manual for all people who have any of the following V’s — vagina, vulva, and vestibule. Don’t know what a vestibule is? Read on, my good friend!

I am a bonafide vagina nerd myself, and when I read this book I learned a BUNCH of things that I did not know. Here are my top five:

  1. So we all know (now) about cervical fluid, but did you know that it’s not the only substance produced by your lady bits to keep things running smoothly? Your vulva actually produces a thin waxy substance, called sebum that lubricates the folds of your labia! It’s a blend of oils, fats, waxes, and cholesterol. If it didn’t, your labia and everything else would be all friction-y and chafe when you walked, had sex, moved, did anything really. That blew my mind. Thanks, body!
  2. Have you ever wondered how the vagina is simultaneously quite small, (i.e., sometimes even putting in a tampon might be uncomfortable and “stretchy”) and also somehow stretches to accommodate a baby passing through it? I definitely have. Well, it’s all thanks to your rugae! Rugae are small pleats that allow the vagina to be both very small and compact, and then to expand to many times its original size when necessary. Rugae is kind of like ruching! You know, the process of using tons of fabric and then scrunching it so it becomes a smaller form. I’m wearing a ruched jacket at this very moment, actually. It makes you think, if you wore this dress to the prom, are you subliminally broadcasting “HEY! THIS IS WHAT THE INSIDE OF MY VAGINA LOOKS LIKE”?
  3. Vestibule! (I told you we’d get here.) Okay! So the vestibule is important enough to be included in the three V’s of the V book, and yet I was like, “where the heck is my vestibule?” Well, it’s the place in between your inner labia. Here it is on Wikipedia, with an image that is ***not safe for work,*** unless you work in the field of sexual health, in which case, click away!
  4. Labia (as in the labia majora and labia minora). This word is actually plural. If you are referring to only one lip it’s called a labium.
  5. httpv://
    Only in rare instances is a human female born with the hymen completely covering the vaginal opening. Most hymens are a little circle of very thin skin that partially covers the vaginal opening, but still leaves space for menstrual blood and cervical fluid to come out. Here is a hilarious and educational video explaining more about this. [Editor’s note: Many sex educators today call it the vaginal corona, not the hymen.]

And there is a LOT more info in that book. Tons. Go pick it up today and learn more than you ever thought possible about vaginas, vulvas, and vestibules!

Cross-posted at March 29, 2013.

We’re back!

Advertising, Art, Menstruation, Meta, PMS

Tap, tap.

Is this thing working? Is this thing on?

After some rest, reconnaissance, and re-organization, re:Cycling is back — bigger, bolder, and with more menstruation and women’s health news than ever. Most of our old team is back, along with a few new recruits and some exciting guest bloggers. There’ll be some new features here as well. More about all of that is coming soon. Our posting will be spotty and irregular throughout August, but expect to see a more consistent, regular flow after September 1. (Yeah, see what I did there? )

We’ve missed a lot of action in four months away. We can’t possibly summarize all of it, but here are some of my personal highlights:


July 19 – The Institute of Medicine (U.S.)  just released a report on preventive health services for women, and the consensus is that health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 should cover contraception without demanding co-payments. You can read and/or download the full report here.


July 18 – Remember Summer’s Eve marketing disaster last summer? They still don’t get it. This year’s “Hail to the V” campaign may be saluting vaginas, but it’s still telling everyone vaginas are dirty.

As Maya put it over at,

That chatty hand claims to be my vagina but is clearly an impostor, because my vagina would never refer to herself as a “vertical smile,” knows better than to even mention vajazzaling to me, and is too busy complaining about how long it’s been since she’s gotten laid to give a damn about if my cleansing wash is PH-balanced. My vagina is not a whiny little pussy.

If you’re not offended enough, check out the stereotypes in the Black and Latina vaginas. For a satisfying satirical response, check out Stephen Colbert’s July 25 program.


July 13 – Bloggers at Ms. magazine have done yeoman work drawing attention to the sexism in the latest PSA from the milk industry, criticizing the sexism toward both women and men in the Milk Board’s stereotype-rich “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign about PMS. Ms. has also promoted’s petition protesting the campaign. Update: By July 24, the campaign had been pulled in response to protests.

2011 Ad for Always brand maxi padJuly 5 – As copyranter astutely notes, the use of a RED spot in the center of a maxi-pad to represent menstrual blood is an historic moment in advertising history. Are we finally done with the mysterious blue fluid? (By the way, copyranter is THE source for smart, snarky analysis of advertising;  he oughta know — his day job is writing the stuff.)


June 20 – Corporate and subsidized donations of disposable menstrual pads may be good for girls, but not so good for the environment.


June 2 – British artist Tracey Emin  art student at University of Wisconsin, follows in Judy Chicago’s inspirational footsteps and turns her tampons into art.


What else have we missed? Add your links in the comments, and don’t be shy about sending us suggestions!



Party Time

Activism, anatomy, DIY, Humor, Objects

Liz Henry's uterus pinataHave you ever wanted to make a uterus piñata? Say, for a baby shower or a menarche party? Liz Henry explains how.

Ms. Henry notes that the symbolism is not as violent as it might first appear:

Now you might think of this as perturbingly violent or promoting the idea of bashing someone’s body part with a baseball bat. However, try to adjust your mind to a different symbolism where cornucopia-like, abundant wealth flows freely out of a fertile, open uterus and you, as whackers with baseball bats, are encouraging it to open up to the world and deliver its fabulous contents!

[via Geek Feminism]

It’s OK to Talk to My Daughter about Sex, but Don’t Tell Her about her Vulva!

anatomy, Communication, Film, Independent Film, magazines, Media

In Therese Shechter’s guest-post about the German teen magazine feature article, “Every Vulva Is Different”, she noted that we’re unlikely to see such an explicit, body-positive article in a U.S. teen magazine. Therese, as usual, knows what she’s talking about. In this just-released video clip from her forthcoming documentary How to Lose Your Virginity, Susan Schulz, the Editor-in-Chief of CosmoGirl! magazine, tells viewers about the time CosmoGirl! ran an article titled “Vulva Love”, which included a cartoon drawing of vulvar anatomy and some basic, age-appropriate physiological and health information about vulvas. It was the most complained about article ever published by the magazine. The complaints were not from the magazine readers, however: the grievances were filed by the mothers of subscribers. Parents thought it was inappropriate material for their teen daughters.

After you watch the clip, consider throwing a few bucks Trixie’s way so she can complete the film – the project needs another $3585 pledged by July 1 to receive the $10,000 they’re trying to raise.

Hooked on Estrogen

anatomy, magazines, Menopause, New Research

Guest Post by Jerilynn Prior, M.D.,  Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research

Estrogen moleculeYes! I’m sure you can hear my whoop of excitement and vindication. Finally, something negative about estrogen and positive about progesterone in the mainstream media. According to this article by Emily Anthes in the current issue of Scientific American: Mind,  women’s risk for addiction, and potential for successful withdrawal, are both linked to our menstrual cycle hormones. Estrogen increases women’s addictive behaviors while progesterone assists with successful addiction recovery.

Why am I feeling vindicated? Because I recently declared that hot flushes/flashes and night sweats are estrogen addiction (1). That wild but supportable hypothesis is based on the evidence that prolonged or high-dose estrogen exposure is required for hot flushes to occur. But, it is the subsequent abrupt decrease in estrogen levels that triggers vasomotor symptoms. Drug exposure—drug withdrawal symptoms. And do women feel high on estrogen? Perhaps. Clearly the withdrawal is miserable—as one woman said, “I continued to take it only because I couldn’t stand being off the hormone. I really couldn’t function.” (p. 2130 (2). Just ask any woman taking estrogen for hot flushes who has tried to stop it.

Rat brains are not the focus of my research—and I generally think rodents aren’t much like women. However, the animal evidence showing that estrogen increases addictive behaviours is strong and extensive. About a year ago I had occasion to visit a recovery facility for women with addictions—it suddenly struck me that most of the women there were perimenopausal. They were experiencing estrogen’s highs and the roller coasters and because normal ovulation is rare in perimenopause they were not having enough progesterone—and battling drug dependence. Sure enough, as Anthes states, hundred of experiments show that female rats become addicted more quickly than male rats, are less likely to become addicted without their ovaries but the quick-dependence problem returns when they are given estrogen (3).

As Anthes reports, it is exciting from animal data that progesterone assists to prevent or treat addictions. However, even more important is the notion that progesterone can assist in addiction recovery—not just in rats but in women. The data strongly suggest that progesterone aids women trying to stop cigarettes (4). Progesterone also appears to decrease the drug “high,” and certain actions of cocaine such as fast heart rate in women who are addicted (5). That was true whether cocaine was administered in the luteal phase (when progesterone is normally high) compared with the estrogen-dominant follicular phase, or when progesterone or placebo were administered to women in the follicular phase (5).

The effect of stress can add another layer of understanding to the addiction arena. We know that estrogen amplifies the responses of the stress hormones ACTH, cortisol and norepinephrine to social stress (ironically, based on a randomized, placebo-controlled trial in men) (6). Could that be one of the reasons estrogen increases women’s addiction susceptibility? It is known but rarely discussed that stress makes both addictive behaviors and hot flushes worse. Progesterone’s positive role in both addictions and hot flush treatment may be because of its effects to improve sleep and decrease anxiety. Two different randomized, placebo-controlled, double masked (neither researchers nor participants knew the identity of the pills) trials show that oral micronized progesterone (Prometrium—300 mg at bedtime) improves sleep without a morning hangover (7), and decreases anxiety in women with premenstrual symptoms (8). These actions may play important roles in progesterone’s potential use as a treatment for addictions and for hot flushes.

I’m happy to see this recent review of women and addictions—in addition to being a fact-based exception to the “good-news-estrogen-tune” that the media usually sings, the evidence that progesterone might help women with addictions toward successfully withdrawal is fundamentally good news. Finally, these differing brain-centered actions of progesterone and estrogen fit with the Susan Baxter’s and my message that for good health our two important hormones need to be in balance—the theme of our recent book, The Estrogen Errors—Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health (Praeger, Westport, CT 2009)(9).

Cross-posted at The Estrogen Errors.

Want to help? If you are a woman who has diary data of hot flushes/night sweats before, during and after stopping estrogen, we at CeMCOR would love to talk with you ( These data aren’t captured in the published estrogen-hot flush trials but could be very important for women’s decisions about whether to take estrogen or medroxyprogesterone for hot flush treatment—we have shown that they are equally effective (10). We have recently documented the progesterone and placebo withdrawal experiences of women in a hot flush trial.


  1. Prior JC. Hot flush pathophysiology predicts prevention and treatment – a model of estrogen addiction with progesterone-facilitated withdrawal. J Women’s Health 19, 629. 2010.
  2. Grady D. A 60-year-old woman trying to discontinue hormone replacement therapy. JAMA 2002; 287:2130-2137.
  3. Larson EB, Anker JJ, Gliddon LA, Fons KS, Carroll ME. Effects of estrogen and progesterone on the escalation of cocaine self-administration in female rats during extended access. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 2007; 15(5):461-471.
  4. Allen SS, Allen AM, Pomerleau CS. Influence of phase-related variability in premenstrual symptomatology, mood, smoking withdrawal,
    and smoking behavior during ad libitum smoking, on smoking cessation outcome. Addict Behav 2009;
  5. Evans SM, Foltin RW. Exogenous progesterone attenuates the subjective effects of smoked cocaine in women, but not in men. Neuropsychopharmacology 2006; 31(3):659-674.
  6. Kirschbaum C, Schommer N, Federenko I, Gaab J, Neumann O, Oellers M et al. Short-term estradiol
    treatment enhances pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic responses to psyhosocial stress in healthy
    young men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1996; 81:3639-3643.
  7. Schussler P, Kluge M, Yassouridis A, Dresler M, Held K, Zihl J et al. Progesterone reduces wakefulness in sleep EEG and has no effect on
    cognition in healthy postmenopausal women. Psychoneuroendocr 2008; 33(8):1124-1131.
  8. Dennerstein L, Spencer-Gardner C, Gotts G, Brown JB, Smith MA. Progesterone and the premenstrual syndrome: a double blind crossover trial. Br Med J 1985; 290:1617-1621.
  9. Baxter S, Prior JC. The Estrogen Errors: Why Progesterone is Better For Women’s Health. Westport: Praeger Publishers,
  10. Prior JC, Nielsen JD, Hitchcock CL, Williams LA, Vigna YM, Dean CB. Medroxyprogesterone and conjugated oestrogen are equivalent for hot flushes: a 1-year randomized double-blind trial following premenopausal ovariectomy. Clin Sci (Lond) 2007; 112(10):517-525.

Of Hot Flushes, Lie Detectors, and Stress

Health Care, Menopause, New Research

Guest Post by Jerilynn C. Prior, Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research

A hot flush causes failure on a lie detector test! The same galvanic skin response (in simple terms—clammy skin) is positive in both. Why? Because—with every flush—there is massive dogs’ breakfast of neurotransmitters and brain stress hormones released. These are the same brain chemicals that are produced as we struggle to create a plausible falsehood. Both arise from a fundamental, brain pathway that mediates both our physical and emotional responses to “threats” (be they nutritional, emotional, physical or some combination of stressors).

Some years ago a psychologist from London Ontario showed that menopausal women’s hot flushes were increased by stressful environment (1). Menopausal women who regularly experienced eight hot flushes a day attended two randomly-ordered 4-hour sessions a week apart. During the sessions they had flushes objectively documented by galvanic skin response. When they were forced to experience a chaotic environment, loud noises, unpleasant videos and bright lights, each of these women experienced more hot flushes; they did not in the alternative calm and pleasant session (1). Likewise, the large Study of Women Across the Nation showed that perimenopausal women who reported “trouble paying for basics” (like food and shelter) had more hot flushes than did those with economic and social security (2).

Given these fundamental relationships between hot flushes and stress, it is no wonder that “paced respiration,” “yoga breathing,” mindfulness meditation, the relaxation response, acupuncture, exercise training and many other techniques that reduce our central reaction to stress will decrease night sweats and hot flushes.

I totally agree with Janet Carpenter that women are eager to find non-pharmaceutical ways to decrease the number and intensity of night sweats and hot flushes (collectively called vasomotor symptoms, or VMS for short).  However, to put into perspective the new research being done by the investigators at the School of Nursing at Indiana University, we need to realize that the first randomized controlled trial of “yoga breathing” for VMS was published in 1984 (3) and followed in 1991 by a similar study using objective VMS measures (4). Subsequently, studies of acupuncture (5-8), relaxation (9) and relaxation plus other therapies (10) all show that they are better than placebo at decreasing VMS. [Editor’s note: As she stated in the Indianapolis Star interview published March 4, 2010, Dr. Carpenter is building upon previous research. She did not claim to invent the concept of managing hot flashes with breathing techniques.]

The research on hot flushes and our central stress response is just beginning. But the average 25-50% improvement in VMS in those taking placebos in trials of soy beverage (11) or hormone therapy (12) are evidence that believing a treatment is therapeutic is pretty effective all by itself.

Reference List

1. Swartzman LC, Edelberg R, Kemmann E. Impact of stress on objectively recorded menopausal hot flushes and on flush report bias. Health Psychology 1990;9:529-45.
2. Gold EB, Sternfeld B, Kelsey JL, Brown C, Mouton C, Reame N et al. Relation of demographic and lifestyle factors to symptoms in a multi-racial/ethnic population of women 40-55 years of age. Am.J.Epidemiol. 2000;152:463-73.
3. Germaine LM, Freedman RR. Behavioral treatment of menopausal hot flashes: evaluation by objective methods. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1984;52(6):1072-9.
4. Freedman RR, Woodward S. Behavioral treatment of menopausal hot flushes: evaluation by ambulatory monitoring. Am.J.Obstet.Gynecol. 1991;167:436-9.
5.  Wyon Y, Lindgren R, Lundeberg T, Hammar M. Effects of acupuncture on climacteric symtpoms, quality of life and urinary excretion of neuropeptides among postmenopausal women. Menopause 1995;2(1):3-12.
6. Hammar M, Frisk J, Grimas O, Hook M, Spetz AC, Wyon Y. Acupuncture treatment of vasomotor symptoms in men with prostatic carcinoma: a pilot study. J Urol. 1999;161(3):853-6.
7.  Borud EK, Alraek T, White A, Fonnebo V, Eggen AE, Hammar M et al. The Acupuncture on Hot Flushes Among Menopausal Women (ACUFLASH) study, a randomized controlled trial. Menopause 2009;16(3):484-93.
8.  Zhou J, Qu F, Sang X, Wang X, Nan R. Acupuncture and Auricular Acupressure in Relieving Menopausal Hot Flashes of Bilaterally Ovariectomized Chinese Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Evid.Based.Complement Alternat.Med 2009.
9. Wijma K, Melin A, Nedstrand E, Hammar M. Treatment of menopausal symptoms with applied relaxation: a pilot study. J.Behav.Ther.Exp.Psychiatry 1997;28(4):251-61.
10.  Ganz PA, Greendale GA, Petersen L, Zibecchi L, Kahn B, Belin TR. Managing menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors: results of a randomized controlled trial. J Natl.Cancer Inst. 2000;92(13):1054-64.
11.  Van Patten CL, Olivotto IA, Chambers GK, Gelman KA, Hislop TG, Templeton E et al. Effect of soy phytoestrogens on hot flashes in postmenopausal women with breast cancer: a randomized, controlled clinical trial. J.Clin.Oncol. 2002;20:1449-55.
12. MacLennan A, Lester S, Moore V. Oral estrogen replacement therapy versus placebo for hot flushes: a systematic review. Climacteric. 2001;4(1):58-74.

Vagina Vérité

anatomy, Art, books

Vagina Vérité logoArtist (and friend of re:Cycling) Alexandra Jacoby is working on a project for women called Vagina Vérité®. She’s making vulva portraits, proud and unabashed, straight-up documentary photographs-so that we can see ourselves for ourselves. The project began as a response to a friend who “didn’t like the way her vagina looked”. Alexandra wanted her friend to know that there was no one right way to look, and it became something of a mission for her to create a document of respect and appreciation for our vaginas, our vulvas, our bodies, ourselves… Alexandra’s been working on vagina vérité® since 2000, and is looking for our help toward completing photography. From there, she plans to publish a book of v-portraits & to exhibit widely. You can learn more about the project and how we can help here [pdf].

Selling Shoes for Running while Cycling

Advertising, anatomy, Menstruation, Objects

Asics gender-specific running shoeAsics footwear has developed a new running shoe that accommodates changes in women’s arches across the menstrual cycle.  According to the Daily Mail, new research shows that changes in levels of estrogen affect flexibility and the height of the foot’s arch. When estrogen is high, and a woman is at her most fertile, the arch drops. Later in the month, when she is menstruating, levels of the hormone are low and the arch is raised.

So the athletic shoe manufacturer has created a new model of running shoe with with three layers of cushioning below the arch.  Closest to the foot is a layer of foam, followed by an air-filled gap and a plastic block. When the woman’s arch is low, the foam is compressed into the gap and when her arch is high the foam fills out. This supposedly assures adequate support throughout the menstrual cycle.

Neither the Daily Mail article nor Asics clarify what causes men’s arches to fluctuate; a quick search-and-surf through Asics website shows the Space Trusstic System® is available in both women’s and men’s models of shoes.

[via Glad Rags]