Tune in to the Tight Lipped Podcast

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Tight Lipped is a storytelling podcast that makes public what is often thought of as “private pain.”

One night, back in 2017, we were cooking dinner in our communal kitchen at Doykeit. Hannah began telling a story about a friend from high school. “She has this condition called vaginismus and she can’t physically have sex.” Without explanation, Noa left the room and started panicking and crying. Noa also had a condition that made penetrative sex painful and impossible, but she didn’t even know there was a medical name for what she was experiencing….

Meet the Hosts: Hannah and Noa

This interview was done BEFORE CORONA

Hannah Barg is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, now living in Chicago and Noa Fleischacker is from Evanston, Illinois and now lives in Jerusalem.

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What did you both do Jewish growing up?

Hannah: I grew up in a very Jewish community. As a child, I went to Solomon Schechter Day School in St. Louis for 9 years. When I was in high school I was very active in USY (chapter president!), Nishmah (a Jewish women’s organization), and a group called Student-to-Student.

Noa: I also grew up doing all things Jewish — I went to Solomon Schechter Day School and then Chicagoland Jewish High School (now Rochelle Zell Jewish High School). My family was part of the Orthodox minyan at Northwestern Hillel when I was growing up and I went to camp at OSRUI (and was a counselor for one year). 

What do you do Jewish now?

Hannah: Wow, so many things! For services, I go to Mishkan, Anshe Emet, and Lakeview Minyan. I helped found a Jewish Social Justice Co-op in Andersonville called Doykeit (how Noa and I became friends!) and a chavura on the far north side called Toch Emunei. I’ve been involved in Svara as well, and I’m currently taking a Yiddish Class through Chicago YIVO! I also recently finished up being an MHWOW host which allowed me to build and support so many communities.

Noa: I currently live in Jerusalem so there’s definitely a lot of Jewish activity all around me! I go to a bunch of different places for services (Nava Tehila, the Hadar minyan, etc.). I was on the Dorot Fellowship last year and spent the year participating in seminars on social, political and religious issues in Israel and the West Bank. 

What do you do for work ?

Hannah: I work as a Development Associate for the New Israel Fund and I’m a freelance producer for the podcast Israel Story.

Noa: I am the New Israel Fund and Shatil Social Justice fellow at an organization called Standing Together in Tel Aviv. Standing Together is a fairly new Israeli Jewish-Arab grassroots progressive movement that works on local and national campaigns for peace, equality and social justice. 

Tell us about the Jewish Social Justice Co-op you founded in Andersonville?

In 2016, we came together with a group of people who had all lived communally and wanted to start a Jewish social justice co-op that wasn’t connected to any particular organization or denomination. Through amazing luck and organization, we ended up in a beautiful home in Andersonville. We decided to call our home Doykeit, which comes from the Yiddish Bundist term meaning “hereness” and affirms the positive and beautiful aspects of the Jewish Diaspora. While neither of us live in the home anymore (which we are very sad about), Doykeit is still going strong into its 4th year and there are currently seven residents living there. 

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The Story Behind the Tight Lipped Podcast

In our research we have found that many of the top people in the field of chronic pelvic pain are Jewish,

One night, back in 2017, we were cooking dinner in our communal kitchen at Doykeit. Hannah began telling a story about a friend from high school who couldn’t have sex (meaning, penetrative sex) with her husband. Hannah said, “she has this condition called vaginismus and she can’t physically have sex.” Without explanation, Noa left the room and started panicking and crying. Noa also had a condition that made penetrative sex painful and impossible, but she’d never heard anyone use the term “vaginismus” before and she didn’t even know there was a medical name for what she was experiencing. 

Noa started going to different doctors’ appointments and trying to get an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan. As she went from doctor to doctor, she would leave Hannah voice memos about the appointments. In some of the voice memos, she talked about how she’d seen yet another doctor who didn’t take her seriously or didn’t believe she was really in that much pain. Or how she’d tried a medication that had bad side effects and wasn’t working.

Slowly, Noa opened up to more and more people about her experiences in the healthcare system and her experiences trying to get proper treatment — and trying to be taken seriously. Every time Noa told a new person that she had chronic vulvar and vaginal pain, they would say “I have that” or “my best friend has that.” It turned out, there were many other people in our small community living with chronic vulvar, vaginal and pelvic pain.

These conversations demonstrated to us how much stigma, shame, and silence there is around these conditions. So, we started researching and reading about the structural and systemic issues in how women’s health and pain, especially vaginal pain, is treated. We wanted to start a larger public conversation, so with Noa’s background in community organizing and Hannah’s experience in radio production, we decided to launch a podcast that would make public what is often thought of as “private” pain! 

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A Storytelling Podcast Against Shame

Tight Lipped is a storytelling podcast that focuses on conditions (like vulvodynia, vaginismus, and endometriosis) that are common, yet often stigmatized and shrouded in shame and silence. Up to 1 in 4 women in the United States experience chronic vulvar or vaginal pain — so it’s really common! Yet the majority of people with these conditions struggle to get a diagnosis, treatment, or even to be taken seriously.

At Tight Lipped we ask: If so many of us have conditions that cause pain, why are none of us talking about it? We explore how gender, race, sexual orientation and class impact women and non-binary folks’ experiences of healthcare and their own bodies. 

Also, the type of podcasting we do is incredibly time-consuming, but also rewarding. We produce highly edited storytelling episodes (think, This American Life), and we typically go through at least ten drafts before we release an episode. Working in different countries and time zones is also a challenge!

Of our many listeners, progressive Jewish women have always been our base and our strongest supporters. At first, our podcast only reached our friends and adjacent communities,  yet as we’ve released more episodes, our audience has expanded to 44 countries including Finland, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Australia, Iran, Thailand and so many more. At this point, we have over 2,500 listeners from around the world!

Participants from the workshop have continued to meet and formed the “Chicago Circle.” If you’re interested in attending a future meet-up, email us at tightlippedpod@gmail.com

Tight Lipped: The Movement

Tight Lipped started as a small podcast, and we’re quickly growing into a much larger community organizing project. Every day we hear from new listeners with chronic vulvar, vaginal and pelvic pain and the participants from our New York and Chicago workshops are planning meet-ups, events, and projects together. Tight Lipped is more than a podcast, we’re starting to build a movement of people with these conditions who are ready to break down stigma, advocate for research funding and better medical education, and change the dynamics that lead people to suffer for years in pain and silence.

In the summer of 2019, Noa and Hannah Srajer (another Chicagoan!) facilitated the first “Tight Lipped” Workshop. The workshop was a chance for people with vulvar, vaginal and pelvic pain conditions to come together, share stories, and talk openly about symptoms and emotions that we often keep secret or private. We were hosted at the Chicago Women’s Health Center and the participants had the opportunity to hear from author Paula Kamen about gender bias in medicine and patient advocacy. We also met with local physical therapists and learned about some of the causes and treatments for these conditions.

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Why is this an important subject for Jewish women and beyond to be openly discussing?

These conditions impact women in the Jewish community just as they impact American women in any other community. Just from word-of-mouth, we’ve found that so many of our close friends, family, and community members are struggling in silence with excruciating pain — and often feel like they’re completely alone in their experiences. 

As the “Me Too” movement continues to develop, our Jewish community, like many other communities, is reckoning with its own sexism. We’ve seen the beginning of conversations about leadership structures, salaries, donor dynamics, and sexual harassment. And we think it’s time to talk openly about our bodies as well. We need to break down stigma and work to address the stereotypes and misconceptions that lead so many women to suffer with chronic pain in silence. 

Also, to our surprise, we’ve found in our research that many of the top people in the field of chronic pelvic pain are Jewish!

When the Tribe Gathers…they tell stories, break down stigmas, and fight for the treatment and care that they deserve!

Short List of Jewish Specialists in the Field

Paula Kamen (her full bio is on her website)

Paula Kamen, born in 1967, has always had her work — from satire to books to play scripts — called “brutally honest.” (And occasionally that has even been a compliment.) She is most known for her book, All in My Head, which Salon.com said “connects the dots on this issue of women and chronic pain in a way nobody else has done.” Select women in late middle age may most know her as the author of the first Gen X feminist book/status report, Feminist Fatale. Lately she has been focusing on her revised part-documentary play, “Jane: Abortion and the Underground” — about the legendary pre-Roe feminist abortion service, which has been produced and read at more than 20 fringe theaters and college campuses — and in January 2020 had readings in Chicago and Vermont. In September 2019, as covered in Playbill, the play had its NYC debut, a celebrity reading, starring Cynthia Nixon at the off-Broadway Rattestick Theater. 

Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus LCSW, MPH, PHD

Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus is a certified sex therapist and the Clinical Director of Maze Women’s Sexual Health in New York. Dr. Marcus wrote her dissertation on women and vibrator use while earning her Doctor of Philosophy in human sexuality from the Institute of Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She also has a Master’s in public health from the same institution. She is a licensed social worker with a Master’s degree from Columbia University. Dr. Marcus has worked as the executive director of not-for-profit institutions and corporations, medical practices and laboratories. In addition to being featured in a NY Times article, The Orthodox Sex Guru – NY Times, she is a frequent guest on radio, podcasts and has lectured both nationally and overseas on a wide variety of women’s issues.

Dr. Andrew Goldstein (his full bio can be found here)

Dr. Andrew T. Goldstein grew up in Bridgeton, New Jersey and graduated from the University of Virginia and the University of Virginia School of Medicine. He pursued his internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Beth Israel Medical Center. After completing his residency, Dr. Goldstein moved to Annapolis, Maryland and in 1999, he joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and in 2002 he became the Director of the Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders in Washington, D.C and New York City. He is currently a Clinical Professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Goldstein is actively involved in research and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts, and book chapters on female sexual dysfunction, sexual pain disorders, lichen sclerosus, lichen simplex chronicus, vulvodynia, and vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (vestibulodynia). 

Barbara Gross (from Barbara’s Website)

Barbara has a Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, where she specialized in Mental Health and Sexuality. Her experience includes: work at Beth Israel Medical Center in Maternal Child Health & neo natal intensive care unit as well as work with women and families during high-risk pregnancies. She has been treating individuals and couples with sexual dysfunction for many years. She trained with Bat Sheva Marcus at Maze Center for Sexual Health. While there she worked as part of a team providing, sex therapy, individual and couples counseling while working with a PA or RN to treat the individuals emotional and physical issues simultaneously.

Subscribe to Tight Lipped

Follow Tight Lipped on Facebook, @tightlippedpod on Instagram, visit the Tight Lipped Website, or email tightlippedpod@gmail.com.
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Listen to the Podcast

iTunes Spotify Stitcher CastBox Overcast

Ep 1: Secrets

Ep 2: The Trust Gap

Ep 3: A Broken Optimism

WHYY’s “The Pulse” – Sex Hurts (starting at 32:00)

Find all the Chicago events on ChiTribe’s Event Calendar

Rebecca Schwab

Rebecca Schwab

Rebecca creates best practices and executes marketing campaigns for Jewish organizations who are trying to reach the next generation of the Jewish community - specifically Millennials and Gen Z - through digital marketing, social media, online and in-person events.