Bad P*ssy : How an alternative medical paradigm contests conceptualizations of female sexual health and healing in conventional medicine
Meer, C.I. van der
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Vaginismus is a sexual dysfunction that makes vaginal penetration with any object impossible and painful. In this research, the methods as well as the convictions and assumptions that underlie them of conventional and alternative medicine in treating this condition will be examined. The critique that springs from this research resides on the level of discourse and language, wherein it may be clarified what can be conceptualized and therefore understood in conventional paradigms, and what ‘truths’ that are central to an alternative paradigm may remain inaccessible as a result of that. To achieve this, I applied discourse analysis to representative sources from conventional medicine as well as to one popular alternative female sexual health paradigm created by Christiane Northrup. In conventional medicine, female sexual function is defined by heteronormative notions: the issue with vaginismus is that the vagina cannot accommodate a penis during penetrative sex, and treatments seek to counteract that. Physiological treatments are focused on removing pain and tension in the vagina. Psychological treatments assume that vaginismus is fear of pain which causes the undesired muscle tension and seek to remove the fear. The fear is characterized as illogical, which may reduce such thoughts from empirical observations, possibly abetted by socio-cultural norms and beliefs surrounding sexuality, to a fault of the individual. Northrup proposes the mind-body: a re-conceptualization of the self wherein the mind and body are not two complementary parts, but one integrated whole. She unlocks the possibility to connect the emotional state of the self to the physical state: indeed, physical discomfort points to unacknowledged harmful thought patterns. Because the mind and body are one and the same, this is not to say that the mind ‘causes’ illnesses. Northrup argues that harmful thought patterns in women come from the patriarchy: the social environment one inhabits becomes connected with the physical condition of the body. This argument offers a new perspective on feminist critique of medical disciplining inflicted on the female body: perhaps the female physique is not merely a material basis whereupon gendered constructs are built, but a changeable entity in and of itself, subject to and shaped by those very constructions that give rise to socio-cultural norms. Every pain in the female body may be as much the result of a patriarchal social context as feelings of inadequacy enforced through normative ideas on this body.