“Sarah’s story may be shocking to read if you are not one of the 71,500 U.S. women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer every year. But for these women, Sarah’s side effects are intimately, wretchedly familiar.”
A product developed in Madison restores pleasure for women
Isthmus cover story, August 23, 2012
“I think one of the unfortunate things is our society, for very long, has not been open to talk about sex at all,” says Margaret Straub, a physician assistant in the UW Radiation Oncology clinic. “This is just another example where it’s shied away from, even within the medical community.”
But the conversation is changing, in no small part due to Ellen Barnard and Dr. Myrtle Wilhite. They’re partners in life and business who, in 1996, founded A Woman’s Touch, the Madison-based sex toy and educational resource shop. It’s one of the only sex shops in the country where more than 50% of the customers who walk through the doors have sexual health and wellness-related questions, particularly since the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative findings on hormone replacement therapy caused many to stop taking estrogen. Now Barnard and Wilhite have produced their own therapeutic vibrator and informational kit aimed at cancer patients and menopausal women. It’s called Vaginal Renewal, and many are crediting it with restoring their sexual health entirely.
“The sweet, sweet things that we get, letters that we get from doctors,” says Wilhite. “‘Thank you so much for being there. I cannot tell you how you have changed my practice. This has made such a difference in my patients’ lives. I had no idea who you were. My patients educated me on how important you are to my practice.’ I mean, wow.”
“We got a box of chocolates from a doctor in town last winter,” says Barnard. “I hear over and over, ‘You saved my marriage. I’m having sexual intercourse comfortably for the first time in years. I’m having more pleasure than I’ve ever had in my entire life.’ I have more and more stories from women who have completely recovered their sexual function after radiation, which was not expected before.”
—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin