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From the Library: Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology

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Photo: Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology zine

I recently went for over six months without my period. When I asked my doctor for an explanation, all I got was a prescription for Provera. "This will kick-start it", she told me. But a prescription wasn't going to cut it; I wanted answers. I asked my doctor questions about what might be going on with my body. Should I change my diet? Start taking a particular herb? What if I don't get my period again next month? She answered each of my questions by saying, "Well, we can't be sure, but for now you should take the Provera."

I went home and took the Provera. A week later, I got my period. Just like the doctor said. A month later, I waited to start bleeding again. Nothing happened. Another month went by. Again, nothing. I felt really cheated and disconnected from my body. I didn't want to take Provera again. I'd looked into the side effects. In addition to the usual side effects listed with prescription medication, Provera is said to increase the risk of blood clots that will move to your lungs or brain, and animals that have been given Provera have developed breast tumors. I also knew that this medication wasn't going to provide a long-term solution to my missing menses.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found a copy of Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology and I started reading. I was delighted to find that the Montreal-based women who made this radical gynecology zine in 1994 had dedicated an entire section to bringing on menstruation. The zine provides a number of potential solutions, and recognizes that not every herb is going to work with every body, but that it's worth finding the herbs that will work with yours. I read that ginger is said to bring on late periods, and I'm a big fan of ginger, so I decided to try it out. I started drinking ginger tea three times a day, and a week later I was bleeding! Since, then I've been drinking tea made from red raspberry leaves on a daily basis. According to Hot Pantz, "They are by far one of the best uterine tonics. They stimulate menstrual flow by toning the ovaries and the uterus and improving their functions." In addition to toning my lady parts, if they are "taken during menstruation, red raspberry leaves relieve cramps and regulate the flow." Awesome.

Hot Pantz begins with the sentence, "Patriarchy sucks," and goes on to say:

It's robbed us of our autonomy and much of our history. We believe that it's integral for women to be aware and in control of our own bodies. The recipes we present here have been known for centuries, passed down from mother to daughter, and have survived the censorship of the witch hunts. Our intent is simple and practical: to help break away from the medical establishment's tentacular grip on our bodies and our approaches to health and healing.

Hot Pantz provides readers with an understanding of anatomy, recipes to conquer yeast infections and hormonal imbalances, an extensive glossary of self-healing herbs, a list of aphrodisiacs, and it provides instructions on how to give foot massages that will alleviate cramps! I can't tell you how often I consult this zine, or how excited I've been to share information from this zine with a friend in need.

Herbs predate history; women have been using herbs to treat cramps and bring on their menses for a long time. It's no secret that natural medicine has been swept under the rug because of the pharmaceutical industry (Read a bit about the suppression of natural remedies in the US here). While medical advancements have certainly provided more access to birth control and hormone therapy than ever before, I have a hard time believing the multi-billion dollar industry that creates these hormonal drugs is super concerned about women's health. While we have access to these drugs, we do not have control over what goes into them, and pharmaceutical companies are not required to tell us. That is, until women start suing.

Perhaps part of the reason we talk so little about herbs is because we don't want to knock drugs that have gone hand-in-hand with women's liberation. In a recent interview with Bitch, Laura Eldridge (author of In Our Control: The Complete Guide to Contraceptive Choices for Women) spoke of how it is difficult to think critically of the Pill, especially as "acceptance of the Pill was an integral part of second wave feminism and as such allowed for many of the gains women have made." It is indeed difficult to be critical of the Pill. It is also difficult to be taken seriously while talking about and promoting the use of herbs.

Hot Pantz makes it very clear that the zine is not intended to provide diagnosis or prescriptions. The zine is "an informative guide to help you better understand your body and your health". They also make sure to state that if you are in doubt, you should not hesitate "to consult an herbal practitioner, naturopath, physician or gynecologist." I also want to make it clear that I am not against the use of pharmaceuticals. They work for a lot of people. However, I do have a problem with the lack of transparency within the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry that makes decisions about what is going to be available for women to put into their bodies. And I do think that herbal remedies should be more widely available and considered more seriously.

Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology, the wonderful guide to taking back your body, is available as a PDF online. If you're in Portland, you can check out a print copy from our library. If you'd like to buy a print copy online, it is for sale here.

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Comments

24 comments have been made. Post a comment.

"and animals that have been

"and animals that have been given Provera have developed breast tumors."

At higher doses, medroxyprogesterone (Provera) is also used to treat breast cancer in human women, though the claims it causes breast cancer in human females are still being investigated, as no comlpete evidence has yet arisen (plenty of criticism of the WHI study out there if you look for it, on basic issues like not putting in the Smoking Equation properly before collating results). You should probably include this in your article as well, since your main point of discussion is the effect the drugs have on human beings, not animals, and your article focuses on fully informed patients and transparency, which means you have a responsibility to put down all the facts about said drugs when making statements regarding their efficacy/side-effects tradeoffs.

"It's no secret that natural medicine has been swept under the rug because of the pharmaceutical industry"

I seriously question this statement. The "natrual" medicines industry - including herb peddlers, naturopaths, supplements companies and so on - is just as huge and just as profitable and just as non-transparent as big pharma. Their revenue each year in Australia alone is over 3 billion dollars. That's not "under the rug". That's sitting firmly on top of it in front of the fire with a nice cup of hot chocolate, and a good book.

Women educating women is great, but I think a delineation needs to be made between "decent women's health overall" which is what is being discussed here, and the damaging, corrupt, and scientifically questionable "natural medicines industry". I have as hard a time believing that a Big Pharma company that peddles bad drugs to uneducated, poorly-trained doctors cares about women's health as I do believing an industry that tries to cover up its own bio-equivalency reports and which doesn't train practitioners handing out things like fenugreek in mixtures to even ask whether or not a patient is taking warfarin, let alone do a proper patient history report and investigate interactions and efficacy rates in a serious manner (seriously, a few double-blind trials would not kill them, what with that profit margin). "Different" is not necessarily "good" in this issue.

Case-point: ""They are by far one of the best uterine tonics. They stimulate menstrual flow by toning the ovaries and the uterus and improving their functions.""

Really? I wasn't aware you could "tone" squishy internal organs like external muscles at the gym. Perhaps what they were trying to say is, "Ginger is a slight smooth-muscle (internal bits) relaxant (like peppermint/menthol) and phenol-based blood-thinner (similar to fenugreek but with a difference thinning-chemical basis) which therefore can sometimes aid in the breakdown of the uterine lining and the reduction of the reistance to expulsion of said lining from the uterus in menstrual cycles, if the doseage taken is at the right level and the woman's body is a decent metaboliser of the required compounds." This is the kind of education women need, with similar clear and understandable explanations of what goes into "natural" remedies and medicines as much as with standard pharmaceuticals. It's not hard to find Mechanism of Action information online about almost any drug you can take (as long as we know what said action is). Natural medicines and remedies? Not quite so much. Because there's no decent research, there's still only anecdotes and problems with bio-equivalencey.

Yeah, not every herb is going to work for every body, just as not every pharmaceutical is going to work for every body, which is why any criticism levelled at Big Pharma has to be tried against the Natural/Complementary/Supplementary/Alternative Medicines industry as well, because they both suck at treating their patients - especially women - as human beings who deserve to know what they're taking.

Regarding

Regarding medroxyprogesterone: I actually don't feel like I have a responsibility to put down all of the facts about this drug. In fact, I don't think I have a responsibility to put down any of the facts about it, as I'm not advocating the use of it, and I'm definitely not claiming to be an expert when it comes to Provera. My main point about this drug in this post was that I didn't know enough about it to feel comfortable taking it. I used my experience with Provera as a way to lead into how I found herbal gynecology. And yes, this article does discuss the need for transparency in the pharmaceutical industry, but the main point is to review a zine that focuses on herbal remedies. If someone is looking for information on Provera, this particular article isn't the place to find it.

Regarding "swept under the rug": When I said that natural medicine has been swept under the rug because of the pharmaceutical industry, I wasn't referring to the natural medicine industry. Perhaps I could have been more clear about that. What I meant is that natural remedies have been disregarded because they aren't seen as being grounded in science, like conventional medicine these days is. Sorry about any misunderstandings with that.

The purpose of this post is to review Hot Pantz, which is really an introduction to herbal gynecology. If a reader is interested in finding out in more detail about how specific herbs affect the body, they can read the zine online, and look at their sources for more information (which are listed at the back of the zine).

Ashley McAllister, Outreach Coordinator
Did someone say Comments Policy?

THANK YOU!

Thank you for this post and for linking to the zine! I have been searching for more information like this ever since I first read Cunt by Inga Muscio and realized how fully I'd been denied knowledge of my own body.

I've found a few books and since passed them along to others so I'm glad to have something on hand again.

Also, I want to give a recommendation to an herb called Shatavari for a woman's reproductive system and sex drive. I've taken it for a while, off and on, and noticed *significant* increase in my vaginal muscles' strength during intercourse in addition to a noticeable reduction of menstrual pain. Thumbs way up!

Thanks, we have to share

Thanks, we have to share this with other girls, it's subversive!

I wanted to further defend

I wanted to further defend your article by addressing the critical comment's stance on not being able to "tone" internal organs or muscles-I am a person with a reproductive disorder, and have been told multiple times that I should be trying to tone these organs and muscles. No one has ever told me how, just that I should. Furthermore, if you can tone your heart (which you can), or your actual stomach and it's lining (which you can), why wouldn't you be able to tone your other internals?

"What I meant is that

"What I meant is that natural remedies have been disregarded because they aren't seen as being grounded in science"

Because they aren't. Science isn't just "people say this works and it works for me so it might work for you" which is the basis of all "natural" remedies and industries worldwide. Science in regards to human health is base testing, trials (both animal and human-6-phase), removal of potentially damaging chemicals contained in the product to avoid problems further down the line, and generally a level of dissection, observation, information gathering and empirical grounding that - even if you think it's dodgy some/most of the time, in which case I would probably agree with you - isn't even vaguely present in any kind of "natural" medicine discourses.

Now, if you want to then argue that something doesn't have to be "scientific" to be good, then fine. But natural remedies/industries/supplements/practices/whatever cannot come under the banner of "science" because they refuse to put themselves forward for the basic scientific process of empirical observation. Their efficacy is based on anecdotes, not data.

Beyond Western "Science"

I agree with various elements of various comments here, mostly because I'm a big proponent of balance and of being as informed as possible all around. The definition of "science" given by Asa could use some balance, too, though.

Western, empirical, laboratory science is only one mode of science and scientific inquiry. It may be extremely valuable and well-respected when well-performed, but it is *not* the only version. Science is a far bigger concept than many of us trained in the Western intellectual tradition are willing or able to acknowledge. Not only are there different bodies and different remedies and different risks, but there are different understandings of "data" and "empirical observation" and "efficacy." It depends on context, not on some exclusive version of "science."

For example, if I have a health concern, I wouldn't take X vitamin based on the recommendation of one friend or one non-transparent nutritional supplement company ("anecdotes" that Asa rightfully dismisses as insufficient). However, I might consider taking X vitamin based on the health traditions of a long-standing community which views it as a safe solution. I'd still inform myself in as many ways as possible, but I'd realize that this latter counts as science all over the world, even if it doesn't count as "science" to the West.

Timesink

I never understood the comments that in long breaths amount to "nuh uh." At the end of essentially a Zine review.

Science is based off of nature not the other way around. If people find that they can circumvent the possibility of damaging themselves by trying out some tea. Then worst case scenario - they have tea.

It seems that is more the spirit of the review.

I doubt the reviewer ever wanted to argue.

Oh snap.

I love the Hot Pantz zine, and I love Bitch. So thank you for the original post. But damn, do I also love furthering pussy power with scientific empiricism, so I appreciated the information in the comment above. Medicine from plants works, but it isn't because of anything woo-woo; it is because plants have effects on the human body that need to be respected and understood.

If you belong to a school or organization that has a subscription, Natural Standard is a great medical database which show the clinically established efficacy of herbs and other complementary therapies. Ask your friendly neighborhood librarian.

Excellent comment, Asa.

A lot of red flags go up for me too when it comes to stuff like this, too. While I'm not an academic or professional scientist, I closely follow the skeptical movement and one Web site that may be of particular interest is Skepchick, which often takes a skeptical lens to women's issues and employs female thinkers and writers to investigate bad, or in this case no (admitted by OP) science.

In my opinion the disregard "big pharma" seems to have for women shouldn't necessarily lend to support of alternative medicine. I was sent home from the emergency room several time with gall bladder problems that both male and female doctors declared "heartburn," but I was also sent home from Whole Foods with herbs, probiotics and a host of other expensive "remedies"... that weren't. Ultimately nothing but surgery, performed by doctors with the support and development of science and technology could fix me.

OP engages a few logical fallacies to support her advocacy of Hot Pantz, such as post hoc ergo propter hoc (period followed ginseng, therefore ginseng caused period) and argument from antiquity (herbs pre-date big pharma, therefore herbs are superior to big pharma). These kinds of misguiding arguments not only lead women astray, but it ensures the initial (and real) problem (that doctors of both gender brush us off as overdramatic and "hysterical") goes unchecked.

Not to minimize the trauma of missing menses, but I wouldn't take herbs for something that was causing me serious pain or threatening my life, and doctors thinking I lack the critical thinking skills to seek scientifically tenable help might not accomplish anything in their taking-me-seriously department.

I love this zine.

We have this zine at the Anchor Archive Zine Library in Halifax, and I love it. It goes way beyond some of the more well-known DIY Gyno stuff like yogurt for yeast infections. Very comprehensive.

hot pantzzzz

I picked up this zine in November at Oly's GenderJam and it is FANTASTIC. my house keeps hella raspberry leaf tea around. I have also heard that inserting parsley into your vagina can help induce periods? anyway, LOVE THIS.

Isn't it about balance?

I don't think anyone is suggesting there is no place for doctors, drugs and western modern medicine - of course there is. It seems to me that the problem is that western medicine and drugs have taken over too much, are turned to too readily when maybe there are other, more gentle options for healing. Isn't the point of a zine like this to empower women in understanding their bodies more and to do all they can do to heal themselves before turning to drugs? And isn't that then bringing some balance back?

I have self healed menstrual problems through diet and herbs. I have also had 4 babies, huge babies, without drugs or medical intervention. Of course I am glad that western medicine and drugs are there should I ever have had the need, but when I look back at my reproductive/menstrual journey I feel empowered and proud of myself that I sought knowledge and that I was able to be a co-creator in my health and the positive healthy births of my babies.

It is absolutely about balance.

Kirrilee- Thanks for your comment. Very nicely put!

Hot Pantz not only empowers us to learn more about our bodies, but it also gives us access to additional options we might not hear about elsewhere. And exploring herbal gynecology does not mean one has to reject modern medicine.

Ashley McAllister, Outreach Coordinator
Did someone say Comments Policy?

Your post made me think of

Your post made me think of this story I heard on NPR a few years back when I was pregnant with my daughter:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5458926

Basically, a monthly or regular period may not be a biologically 'normal' thing and that the desire for a monthly cycle has roots in birth control pill marketing and the Catholic church.

" And monthly bleeding, says Segal, "was actually a marketing decision made decades ago when the pill was developed.

"Marketers at the manufacturing company which developed the pill," says Segal, "felt at the time that an oral contraceptive might or might not be accepted by the public....

The co-inventor of the pill, John Rock, was a devout Catholic. He felt that if the Catholic Church were to accept this new method of birth control, it would have to appear as normal or natural as possible....

What all this has meant, however, is that women who choose oral contraception have lived for decades with decisions that had nothing to do with science or health.

And, ironically, Segal says, it's not all that natural to menstruate as much as women today do anyway. The average American woman has 450 periods during her lifetime. Throughout most of human history, he says, women menstruated a lot less."

My take on this is, if you do not use hormones to control your period then it seems perfectly 'normal' to skip periods for a while. I've had perfectly healthy friends go for over a year without a period.

western medicine and science

@Ashley: who said:
"But a prescription wasn't going to cut it; I wanted answers. I asked my doctor questions about what might be going on with my body. Should I change my diet? Start taking a particular herb? What if I don't get my period again next month? She answered each of my questions by saying, "Well, we can't be sure, but for now you should take the Provera" . . . . I read that ginger is said to bring on late periods, and I'm a big fan of ginger, so I decided to try it out."

Sounds to me like you still did not know what might be going on with your body, but “ginseng will bring on your period” was somehow more acceptable to you than “Provera will bring on your period.”

The reality is that while some of us like to know what’s going on with our bodies before treating it, one should not assume that is how western medicine works. It is not at all unusual for physicians to treat a patient based on symptoms and what works 99% of the time to alleviate those symptoms. Ordinarily, that leaves plenty of time to investigate what’s going on if the common remedies don’t work. This approach is no different than the way herbal and other “natural” treatments came to be accepted as “wisdom.”

Further, to find out what was going on with your body before treating the symptoms might have required an extensive and expensive series of tests, the outcome of which would likely have been a diagnosis that would have ended with a prescription for Provera. Is that a good use of the medical system or your health care dollar—for your time or your physician’s? Why not opt for the “wisdom” of the medical community that you sought out? (And by the way, if you go to a physician trained in western medicine, you should expect a western medicine approach, which is steeped in both science and patriarchy.)

@msafiri, who said:

"Western, empirical, laboratory science is only one mode of science and scientific inquiry. It may be extremely valuable and well-respected when well-performed, but it is *not* the only version. Science is a far bigger concept than many of us trained in the Western intellectual tradition are willing or able to acknowledge. Not only are there different bodies and different remedies and different risks, but there are different understandings of "data" and "empirical observation" and "efficacy." It depends on context, not on some exclusive version of "science.""

I value many forms of knowledge creation, which include experience and intuition, and I certainly don’t privilege “science” when it comes to what method I put my faith in. But I think it is important and valuable to distinguish those from the scientific method of knowledge creation that depends on experimentation, observation, and the “scientific method.” To say these other forms of knowledge creation are also “science” is, in my opinion, an attempt to create acceptance for them among those who see “science” as the only valid form of knowledge creation. These other methods of knowledge creation are sound and don’t need to be called a form of “science” to be recognized as valuable.

Douching with echinacea to treat chlamydia???

As a public health professional, I'm really cringing at the idea that anyone is suggesting that you treat a chlamydia infection by douching with echinacea (like Hot Pantz is doing). Seriously, when a safe and effective treatment (an appropriate course of antibiotics) is known and readily available, why would you take the risk of an untested, anecdotal herbal treatment? How is it helping women to recommend this, particularly when the possible consequences of ineffective treatment (as Hot Pantz correctly notes) include pelvic inflammatory disease and sterility? (I'm at least a bit relieved to note that the HIV information in Hot Pantz seems accurate.)

How about, instead of promoting dubious herbal remedies, we keep fighting for universal access to health care for women (and men), including reproductive health care? Maybe it would be better to make sure that women have access to abortions when needed (using safe, well-tested pharmaceutical and other methods), rather than suggesting that if you want to induce a miscarriage, try out these herbs and good luck to you? Herbal remedies are not a substitute for evidence-based medicine; there is a real risk that people will try out these self-treatments and delay or not get effective care, leading to harm.

Some people don't think that

Some people don't think that antibiotics are safe. Some people are allergic to antibiotics. There are a lot of reasons why someone would choose an herbal remedy over a pharmaceutical one.

and let's also remember

Let's also keep in mind that the herbal remedies that "predate history" were successful at a time when women's life expectancy was what--28 years? So the long-term effects may not have been passed on along with the remedies simply because they weren't known.

Wow, what an interesting

Wow, what an interesting discussion. As someone who lives in a society where I cannot honestly discuss my sexual activity and health needs with my doctor, this zine could be a good resource. Certainly I would not expect the advice given to work miracles, but it may be able to assist in maintaining good reproductive health. It's worth a try! I'm excited to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

dubious medical advice

As a historian of medicine and public health, I know all too well what used to happen in the "good old days" before antibiotics. Part of the reason the death rate was so high during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic was that many died not from flu per se but from secondary infections such as pneumonia. Millions more died from tuberculosis and syphilis.

Yes, some people are allergic to some antibiotics -- for example, I'm allergic to amoxicyllin, but I can take other antibiotics.

Everyone knocks FDA but they aren't in the pocket of Big Pharma -- in fact, the agency is quite rigorous (e.g. the recent rejection of the so-called "pink Viagra")

There is no regulatory oversight of "natural remedies" because they are considered dietary supplements, not drugs. Caveat emptor.

p.s.

P.S. It's simply not true that drug companies don't tell us what's in their products -- they are required to do so by federal law. They are also required to include a patient package insert that contains a list of all possible side effects and other risks. Can the same be said of natural remedies?

although i love this zine

although i love this zine (have had numerous copies over the years), and although i prefer using natural remedies over pharmaceuticals and definitely don't use hormones (except for one post-sexual assault plan B treatment), switching from provera to herbs for bringing on a period doesn't provide the answer to what was causing the lack of periods in the first place. i'm curious about whether the herbal treatment you used brought your periods back and how quickly. i've had friends and clients with similar situations, so i'm interested in your experience, if you would be willing to share more.

From the Library: Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology | Bitch

Good article. I'm dealing with some of these issues as well..