The idea for Dr Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl’s book, The Wonder Down Under, was inspired by the (limited) way we talk about our most intimate body part. “We want women to be able to make independent choices from a point of self-confidence and self-assurance, armed with all the facts. And we want these choices to be based on sound medical knowledge – not gossip, misunderstandings or fear”.
In the UK, 21,000 women are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer each year. Despite its prevalence, the number of women taking up their cervical cancer screening appointments dropped last year to an 10-year low. According to a recent poll conducted by the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer trust, this absence was fuelled by anxieties surrounding body image and more specifically, ‘embarrassment’. Put bluntly, our uneasy relationship with our vagina comes at the cost of life.
Recognising the severity of this problem, Dr Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl started a blog called ‘The Genitals’. Originally aimed at teenagers in Norway, the women aimed to provide research-based, sound medical information, written in an accessible and funny way. The medical students and sex educators soon found that their audience was much wider than imagined and could not be confined by age or sex. However, they were all looking for one thing: honest answers and conversation surrounding the female body.
In response to this, Nina and Ellen spent three years travelling the world, talking about vaginas and discovering all they could about the stigmatised subject: “Sometimes it felt like we could have spent a whole day just answering questions: do I look normal down there? Does discharge mean I have a sexually transmitted disease? How can I be sure that I bleed on my wedding night?” History is riddled with urban myths about the vagina, sadly over time, some of these misconceptions have been taken as fact. Tired of these misrepresentations, Nina and Ellen pooled their medical expertise and published The Wonder Down Under, “a user’s guide to the vagina”.
“The interest in our book shows us that information on this subject is scarce,” say the women from the book’s Preface. Together, they acknowledge the silence that has shrouded the female anatomy and the lack of credible reference points: “It means that women all over the world have serious questions and few sources to turn to”.
Released in the UK on International Women’s Day, the book “explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know but didn’t dare ask”. The content – which is made up of text, diagram and illustration – tackles contraception, FGM, periods, virginity (and more), with a relatability and openness that gives women and their concerns a viable space to be heard.
Part medical documentary, part manifesto, The Wonder Down Under does more than just demystify the vagina – it celebrates it. “The most important thing for us is that after reading it you’ll be able to relax. After all, a body is just a body; we all have one, and it offers us joys and challenges alike throughout our lives. Be proud of what your body achieves and be patient with it when it struggles”.