Every single day we are flooded with hundreds of podcasts and sometimes, it gets hard to choose. As I am interested in a diverse range of topics, from science to mythology, from fictional stories to politics and history, it is becoming increasingly hard for me to pick an interesting podcast. The fact that my time is quite limited to about 20 or 30 minutes every time I take my dog out for a walk narrows down the list of podcasts to those with medium-length episodes.
While browsing for podcasts related to anthropology and, more specifically to body image and the relationship humans have with their own bodies, I came across ‘Bodies’. What an eye-opening and excellent find! The podcast was created and hosted by Allison Behringer, who, marked by her own experience and connection to her body, decided to share her story and the accounts of various people who struggled with and inside their bodies.
Allison starts by recounting her case and shares with the audience her profound mental, emotional and physical reactions to escalatingly painful sexual acts. Whilst trying to research and figure out what exactly caused unbearable sex, her relationship with her boyfriend degraded and she discovered that gynecologists are poorly equipped to care for or to advise women in regards to their sexual lives. A sine qua non condition for engaging in sexual acts is pleasure. The question is, why weren’t some gynecologists able to address this simple and basic ailment that Allison was going through? One of the reasons why painful sexual experiences in women were not researched or deemed important enough is the fact that sexual pleasure was regarded and documented by male doctors, whose interest, in the past, has been on male pleasure.
In the end, Allison learnt that her painful sex life was actually caused by contraceptives, which thinned out the muscles and tissues at the entrance to the vagina. Surprinsingly enough, pain during sex was not on the list of side effects caused by contraceptives. Obviously, contraceptives were revolutionary in that they freed females from having sex as only a means of reproduction, but was it really so? Isn’t this a narrative created by the same men who researched and introduced these contraceptives on the marketplace? The idea was that women would be able to enjoy sex without the stress associated with the ‘pull-out method’ and that they could delve into the pleasure of the act without worrying about baring children. In spite of this apparent freedom research does show that contraceptives can cause painful sex for women. This bothersome side effect should be listed on the package leaflet of contraceptives and both women and men, starting with gynecologists, should deem women’s sexual health and pleasure as important for research, science and general knowledge as men’s sexuality.
Another savvy episode of “Bodies” narrated KalaLea’s tale, a young African-American woman who went through debilitating menstrual periods. Every time she was on her period she lost enormous quantities of blood and was torn by the excruciating pain. It disrupted her life and she was embarrassed by the stains and often by the pools of blood she literally left behind. She believed it was normal and her friends and family reinforced that. When she finally got diagnosed, she discovered that she had fibroma. She also found out that, statistically, fibroma is more common in black women. Why is it so? As it turns out, the amount of stress and insecurity that black women face in societies that were and still are dominated by white supremacy, can lead to higher chances of developing fibroma. Off topic, in one of my courses during my master in anthropology, I read an article that researched spontaneous abortions. It seems that the same stress, insecurity and distrust in a medical system where African-American people were never a priority, higher rates of spontaneous abortions occur in women of colour.
Quite a few episodes of ‘Bodies’ tackle the relationship that women have with their bodies and that appeals to my feminist side. On the other side, there are plenty of episodes that talk about mixed groups of men and women, but also about individual men. The topics vary quite a lot, but each episode is unique and insightful. I have eagerly listened to stories about protecting communities of drug users from STDs and to the account of a man born without testicles and his confrontation with the societal definition of normality. Allison also presents aspects of the lives of people who were born with dwarfism and the business success of a transgender men and his personal search for suitable prosthetic penises.
I absolutely loved this podcast. I feel that it enriched me and it revealed medical facts and unique problems that people face daily in relationship to their own bodies. Even though some of us might not have these specific problems, we certainly encounter complex bodily issues in the course of our lives. This podcast is both a wake up call and a wise resource that points out to the actuality that the medical system or society at large might not be equipped to help us. We need to be resilient, listen to our bodies and find ways of changing the perspective we have of our own bodies.