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The wellness industry was worth an astounding USD 4.2 trillion in 2017. On October 29, Dr. Jen Gunter, gynecologist, fierce advocate for women’s health, and author of The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina–Separating the Myth from the Medicine, joined us at the Rotman School of Management to discuss how the wellness industry is in fact a wellness industrial complex, profiting from preying on widespread misinformation about women’s health.

Gunter began by explaining that the wellness industrial complex is partly based on “vaginal shame”: society perceives women’s bodies and bodily functions as disgusting, toxic, or unclean. Businesses take advantage of this shame by selling products they call empowering or detoxifying, such as vaginal jade eggs. However, such products are not proven to be effective, and can even be harmful. “That is so predatory,” Gunter noted. “That’s taking patriarchy, wrapping it up with a pink bow, and saying it’s feminism.” Social media also plays a role by consistently repeating fake information about women’s health, to the point that consumers think it is accurate.

“[The wellness industrial complex] is taking patriarchy, wrapping it up with a pink bow, and saying it’s feminism.”

To confront the wellness industrial complex, Gunter discussed the following:

 Medical systems and institutions need to improve women’s healthcare.

Medicine needs to pay better attention to women’s health concerns, which are often ignored, and ensure that the diversity of our population – different ages, races, etc. – is considered when researching and testing for treatments.

Men and boys in heterosexual relationships play a role in women’s bodily shame.

Gunter commented that “if the first person that you partner with when you’re 15 or 16 is a guy who knows essentially nothing, and he makes a snide comment about how you look, that is going to stay with you for life…That’s why my book is dedicated to women who have been told horrible things [about their bodies].” This shame fuels the wellness industrial complex, and it is crucial that women and girls recognize this.

High quality sex education is crucial.

Businesses know scaring people sells products. The best ammunition for the wellness industrial complex is having the facts. Sex education will help people, especially young people, make better, more empowered decisions about their bodies, rather than basing them on shame and fear.

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