Despite the many amazing medical advances in the last century, women’s health is still shrouded in mystery, misogyny, and misinformation. From sexuality to anatomy, information about women’s bodies (not to mention knowledgeable doctors) falls woefully short.
The historically male-dominated healthcare system, along with religious and social stigmas against women, plus patriarchal values make it all the more difficult to achieve medical (and social) equity. These factors have resulted in disastrous consequences for women and uterus-owning individuals across the globe.
Half the world’s population has a clitoris. Still, it remains largely ignored by the medical community. Doctors like Brooklyn-based Dr. Amir Marashi, Founder of Cerē, are hoping to change that. I sat down with Dr. Marashi to learn more about his work and what that change might look like for women moving forward.
Risking His Life For Hymens
Marashi began his medical career while he was still in his teens, working for his father, a prominent surgeon in Iran. Throughout his career, he has seen women’s rights being violated, their sexuality stigmatized, and the doctors who supported them vilified. Women’s health was receiving plenty of attention—just the wrong kind.
In Iran, where women could be murdered for not being a virgin on her wedding night, hymenoplasties (hymen reconstruction surgeries) were a popular procedure to ensure bleeding upon consummation of the marriage. Iranian society widely considered the procedure taboo, so Marashi began performing these surgeries in secret. He witnessed doctors being executed for doing the same.
“It was a hush-hush procedure,” Marashi said. “It had to be done underground. This and abortion back then were at the same level.”
When Marashi later started caring for African and Haitian patients, he saw the devastating effects of genital mutilation and medical inequity. “To lose part of the clitoris is such a big deal,” Marashi said. “It’s taking their identity away from them. You become a baby-making factory.”
In the States, he’s witnessed women’s symptoms being ignored by doctors, resulting in worsening mental and physical health. Marashi has met patients whose sexual health was destroyed during routine hip and pelvis surgeries because doctors were utterly unfamiliar with the physical attributes of the clitoris, which was not mapped out anatomically until 2005.
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Un-censoring The Clitoris
“Women’s sexuality is like a second-class citizen,” Marashi continues. “They haven’t researched women’s sexuality as much as they have for men. Look at the clitoris—how many years they blocked and censored the clitoris from every single anatomy book over the last 100 years.”
This censorship of women’s physiology has resulted in an expectation for women to suffer through their symptoms silently—and, if we’re being honest, shamefully. Even the medical term for female genitals is called the pudendal area, coming from the Latin pudendum, or “parts to be ashamed of.” As a result, women deal with heavy bleeding and clotting, pain during childbirth, and sexual disorders with little to no solace.
For menopausal women, it can be even worse. Menopausal research is even scarcer than reproductive research, leaving a significant portion of the population in the dark, unheard and unseen.
“If it was a man going through any of these things,” Marashi poses, “[think of] erectile dysfunction. How quickly was Viagara approved? (In just two years) Something that wasn’t a medical emergency, they approve it that fast? That’s the problem. We don’t have medical equity.”
So, Marashi and other doctors like him are working to destigmatize and demystify women’s health once and for all.
‘Orgasms Are Good For You’
Marashi described various techniques he has used to restore vaginal and sexual health, including PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections, sound devices, lasers, and micro-needling. And while Marashi is helping his local communities in New York, this type of healthcare isn’t easily accessible nationwide.
For people with a uterus who are struggling with a lack of medical therapies, Marashi said it’s critical to take matters into one’s own hands. The most effective way to do it? Orgasm. “When you don’t use it, you lose it. The less the clitoris gets stimulated, [the less it gets] engorged.”
By regularly orgasming, the clitoris remains active and maintains functionality, he said. “If you’re going through menopause, this is something you do for yourself. You have to do your Kegels. Do your masturbation. You don’t like your partner? Forget about them; stimulate yourself. Orgasms are very good for you.”
And for many of Marashi’s patients, that’s what he recommends—plus a healthy moisturizer. He suggests using organic, food-grade coconut oil in and around the vagina before engaging in sexual activity and for general, everyday moisturizing.
“We always talk about lubricants, but nobody talks about moisturizing. Moisturizing the vagina, especially in menopausal women, is very important,” Marashi advises.
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‘Call Out Doctors’
Reacquainting yourself with your body through masturbation and physical touch can help you reclaim the sexuality and anatomy that the medical community has ignored for so long. He used this philosophy to create a line of sexual wellness devices and products called Cerē.
The company’s first product, the Lalalena, is a vibrator in the shape of a clitoris (as opposed to the shape of the phallus, which is pretty much ubiquitous when it comes to sex toys).
But, Marashi adds, it’s also essential to know when to advocate for yourself in the examination room. “Menopausal women need to speak up. Back in the day, nobody cared about breast cancer,” Marashi said. “But there’s so much voice now about breast cancer, which is amazing.”
“We have to do the same thing [with menopause]. They need to be their own advocate,” Marashi continued. “Get a second and third opinion. You need to call out doctors. It’s the era of social media. Insurance tells you to take so many minutes with a patient. Patients need to call them out on that.”
The more we continue discussing women’s health, from menopause to sexuality to vaginal wellness, the less stigmatized it will become. But that will take persistence, dedication, and time. It’s up to us to continue fighting for medical equity by holding doctors accountable and advocating for our rights to autonomy, happiness, and health.