January 22, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 62  

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Medical ignorance cured far too late

Kats got your tongue
Laura Katsirdakis

News Editor

A master’s student at the University of British Columbia has spent the last three years mapping out the nerves that run through the vagina. What is astonishing is that this is the first research ever done documenting the nerves in the erectile tissue around the clitoris.

So let me get this straight. Until 2000, when this research was begun, any surgery done on women such as hysterectomies or cyst removals, surgeons were operating with no knowledge of the nerve pathways in the female genital area?

The standard practice is to take information about the nerve pathways in the penis, which have been documented in medical textbooks for years, and assume the nerves will be the same in a woman.

Am I missing something? Are a penis and a vagina not two entirely different things? The male has a prostate whereas the woman has a uterus. How could the medical professionals we trust to operate on us assume the two are the same?

How would a surgeon know if they were doing damage if they did not know what nerves they may be cutting through or where those nerves go?

When Rosemary Basson, an obstetrician-gynecologist at UBC suggested the topic of study, both Shona Penhale, the UBC master’s student who did the groundbreaking research, and those who funded the research, were astonished to learn this research had never been done before.

“It is not surprising that this research has not been done — as a women’s health researcher I know there has been so little research done on women’s health,” said Beverly Liepert, the Ontario women’s health council chair in rural women’s health. She added that although the lack of research did not surprise her, it was sad.

To illustrate her statement, Liepert offered an example. Breast cancer research, she said, was initially done on men. It was thought women’s hormones would interfere with research. When funding bodies were approached and asked for support to do breast cancer research on women, they said no, because in their opinion, the research had already been done.

Liepert explained that we now know female hormones are intricately involved in breast cancer. They may be key to understanding it. Once breast cancer research was finally done on women, this discovery showed it was important to do the research on women and men.

“It is important to ask, who is on these funding bodies? Are there any women?” Liepert asked, pointing out the comparatively small number of women in the position to do such research or influence funding for it.

Assuming medical research done on men can be superimposed on women is dangerous and ignorant. It reveals a dire need for women’s health research. Why has this research not been done until now?

Don’t tell me feminists are whiners; there is a need for a feminist voice in this society. The complete lack of knowledge in the medical profession regarding the nerve pathways in the female genital area is inexcusable, and reveals that the feminist goal to eliminate discrimination against women is not over, although many assume it essentially is.



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