“I’ve come across several myths and misconceptions about the body—the most bizarre being about smearing yoghurt on your breasts to prevent sagging,” reveals Dr Tanaya Narendra, aka Dr Cuterus as she is popularly known on social media. With a million followers on Instagram, this medical doctor, embryologist and scientist has gained popularity for being unabashedly vocal about medical and sexual health, often considered taboo in a patriarchal society like India. Her content, almost always presented with a tinge of humour, aims to help her audience have a better understanding of their bodies, in turn, empowering them to embrace it the way it is.
It is this very theme that extends to her book, Dr Cuterus: Everything Nobody Tells You About Your Body, published by Penguin India. The first-time author describes it as a “body literacy book”, for she believes there's a stigma associated with the term ‘sex education’, which sometimes acts as a barrier in having these conversations.
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“Through this book, I want to put forth the idea that several women’s healthcare issues are neglected as a consequence of ingrained misogyny. Once you understand your body, you will feel less ashamed about it being a certain way, even if advertisements tell you otherwise,” she continues.
An attempt to shatter stigma
Unlike many other Indian households, her parents—both fertility doctors— discussed supposedly taboo subjects openly during her childhood. And that is why Dr Narendra never experienced any awkwardness broaching questions around periods, sex, or more. “When I was young, my parents gave me a DVD to answer so many questions around subjects that are often stigmatised,” she adds.
That’s a rarity in a country like ours, where vulva-owners often feel inhibited reaching out to gynecologists for the fear of being judged, particularly when sexually active. “Doctors are also a by-product of the society we live in,” says Dr Narendra.
When she was training as a fertility doctor in the UK, she witnessed at close quarters how people were struggling simply because of lack of information. If someone had explained things clearly to them a decade ago, they wouldn’t be having a hard time today. "Unfortunately, we aren’t taught in medical school to be sensitive about these subjects. I think even if one person tries to be a voice of change, others might follow,” she shares.
Humour as an effective tool
Whether it’s Dr Narendra’s reels on Instagram or her book, every piece of content is imbued with humour. It is interesting to see how the author has smartly used puns, stories, and some popular Bollywood references in this handbook to drive a point home. My personal favourite is how she introduces the vagina as Vajayanti, rightly referred to as an ‘A-list celeb’ that the paparazzi loves to stalk but actually has zero idea about.
“I believe humour is a very powerful tool for disarming people. Most of these subjects are sensitive, so it’s my attempt to make my audience chill out a bit, before I get to the heavy conversations. When something is ridiculous, you will remember it better. If I say SRK is the sperm, Kajol is the egg, and Babuji is the contraception (yes, the Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge reference), you are bound to retain the information far longer,” she laughs.
She follows the physicist Richard Feynman’s theory. He says you truly understand a subject, if you can explain it to a 5-year-old. She tries to do that, without being patronising to her adult audience. "Plus, as a doctor, it is my job to educate my patients, so that they can make better healthcare decisions,” she explains. Dr Narendra has made a concerted effort to explain topics like contraception in great detail in her book, because trendy reels can never be as nuanced.
For the longest time, conversations around pleasure for vulva-owners have been minimal in popular media. But things are finally beginning to change. “We have been conditioned to believe that vulva-owners' pleasure doesn’t matter. There are so many labels we are subjected to – if you seek pleasure, you are slut shamed; if not, you are called frigid,” she says. Dr Narendra is now happy to witness the rise of the sexual wellness industry. However, she mentions a caveat that in the age of hypersexualisation, there’s also a strong push on ‘sex being everything’. “Those who haven’t had sex are made fun of. I think it comes from the idea that sex is either really good or bad. With an increasing number of people becoming confident about talking about asexuality, hopefully we will be able to have more sensitive conversations,” she adds.
Dr Narendra hopes that someday body literacy becomes a part of school curriculums. “It is at an early age that you begin associating subjects like sex and periods with shame, which then leads to unhealthy adult relationships. I hope there comes a day when I can tweak my book and present it to younger audiences,” she concludes.
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