Rachel E. Gross

Mar 30, 2022

Vagina Obscura

An Anatomical Voyage

W. W. Norton 2022

A camera obscura reflects the world back but dimmer and inverted. Similarly, science has long viewed woman through a warped lens, one focused narrowly on her capacity for reproduction. As a result, there exists a vast knowledge gap when it comes to what we know about half of the bodies on the planet.

That is finally changing. Today, a new generation of researchers is turning its gaze to the organs traditionally bound up in baby-making—the uterus, ovaries, and vagina—and illuminating them as part of a dynamic, resilient, and ever-changing whole. Welcome to Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage (W.W. Norton, 2022), an odyssey into a woman’s body from a fresh perspective, ushering in a whole new cast of characters.

In Boston, a pair of biologists are growing artificial ovaries to counter the cascading health effects of menopause. In Melbourne, a urologist remaps the clitoris to fill in crucial gaps in female sexual anatomy. Given unparalleled access to labs and the latest research, journalist Rachel E. Gross takes readers on a scientific journey to the center of a wonderous world where the uterus regrows itself, ovaries pump out fresh eggs, and the clitoris pulses beneath the surface like a shimmering pyramid of nerves.

This paradigm shift is made possible by the growing understanding that sex and gender are not binary; we all share the same universal body plan and origin in the womb. That’s why insights into the vaginal microbiome, ovarian stem cells, and the biology of menstruation don’t mean only a better understanding of female bodies, but a better understanding of male, non-binary, transgender, and intersex bodies—in other words, all bodies.

By turns funny, lyrical, incisive, and shocking, Vagina Obscura is a powerful testament to how the landscape of human knowledge can be rewritten to better serve everyone.

Sine Yaganoglu: Having trained as a neuroscientist and bioengineer, I switched to industry following my PhD at ETH Zurich and have been working in innovation management and diagnostics. Besides reading about science, innovation and entrepreneurship, I have become interested in the scientific and cultural aspects of parenting and motherhood since welcoming my first child.

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Sine Yaganoglu

Sine Yaganoglu trained as a neuroscientist and bioengineer (PhD, ETH Zurich). She currently works in innovation management and diagnostics.

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