Interview Series: Dr. Maria Uloko

Interview Series: Dr. Maria Uloko

Welcome to our interview series - where we will be featuring amazing founders and innovators in our extensive network. First up, Dr. Maria Uloko, an esteemed  Urologist, Comprehensive Sexual Medicine Surgeon, and International Award Winning Researcher on Vulva Anatomy including Clitoral Study. 

Dr. Maria Uloko! We are huge fans of your work and honored to feature you in Fav’s community. Let’s get right in and give the people what they want:

How the hell did you get into urology? 

My journey into urology was a series of fortunate events that aligned with my proactive nature. From the young age of 17 when I began medical school, I had to make significant life choices early on, despite not having a medical family background as an immigrant with limited resources. Surgery really resonated with my desire for problem-solving with immediate results. I decided on urology, after attending a women in surgery conference, where I met Dr. Hadley Wood,  a reconstructive urologist, from the Cleveland Clinic. Her poise, kindness, intelligence, and style inspired me. I had never met a female urologist. That is why I’m a big believer in representation, you can not dream of something you’ve never envisioned. I unfortunately did not have mentorship so I had to hustle my ass off to match into this speciality. I was the first woman from my medical school and the first Black graduate from the University of Minnesota into urology. My efforts were fueled by a commitment to increase representation, especially since only 0.2% of urologists are black women. I am passionate about enriching the field with diversity, which I believe brings diversity of ideas and improves the quality of patient care. I then completed a comprehensive sexual medicine fellowship, reconstruction and prosthesis under Dr. Irwin Goldstein and Dr. Jordan Siegel in San Diego. This is the only program in the entire country that also teaches us about female sexual health/vulvar sexual health.This is where I discovered my true calling in Sexual Medicine and my passion for advocacy in bridging the research and care disparities in penile and vulvar health.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced personally since entering the field of medicine? 

For fifteen years, I've lived and breathed the world of medicine, pouring my soul into it and feeling very privileged to have this as my life’s calling. (Yes, I started medical school at 17, I’m a Blacker, hotter Doogie Howser.) But let me tell you, the journey wasn’t easy. During my time in medicine, I’ve been really disillusioned about the systems of inequality/inefficiency that continue to prevent progress and directly harm patients. The lack of innovation and adaptability and sheer resistance to change, to evolve, to *truly* serve our patients—it ignites a fire in my belly!

I've always carried the torch for advocacy, for tearing down the barriers to care. Many refuse to challenge the status quo, to genuinely place people over profit. I’ve realized that the practice and art of medicine has been shaped and tainted by capitalism. When you start putting profit over human lives,  the soul of healthcare bleeds out, leaving nothing but hollow transactions. Even starting my vulvar clinic was a constant fight against systems to be better able to serve my patients. I realized that the current practice of medicine was impossible unless we change the system. The thing is the system won't change unless we force it to and thats why I left the system not out of defeat but out of necessity. I want to create solutions that help people navigate the system while also challenging the system and advocating for change. This is my rebellion, my revolution, my relentless pursuit of a humanity that remembers its heart.

You’ve mentioned in our previous conversations that you're teaching gynecologists about the vulva, why is that?

I must confess, when I realized that our medical training especially that of gynecology the specialty deemed the “women’s health” specialty doesn’t actually address much of women’s health especially things related to sexual health, it was really shocking. I thought we learned everything we needed to learn in medical school or residency in order to help patients. But there exists a profound negligence within our medical system—a neglect that undermines the importance of vulvar health, its anatomy, and the essence of female sexuality. The statistics don't just whisper; they roar. Only half of the medical schools are required to cover sexual medicine, and within this already scant education, the understanding of vulvar anatomy, its functions, and its connections to various diseases are painfully ignored. This is why so many people with pelvic pain on average require 7-10 years to get a diagnosis. Not because they are challenging but they are going against a system that never learned how to take care of them. And refuses to learn quite frankly. 

Throughout my entire medical schooling and even during an exceptional urology residency, the education on this matter was virtually nonexistent.  It wasn't until my  fellowship that I began to unravel the layers. That's when I learned about vulvar health and “female sexuality” in  full depth. I was SO shocked that many of these conditions were never mentioned in any part of my training despite some of these conditions affecting 100% of women. 

It prompted me to delve deeper, to question the policies that had left me, and undoubtedly many others, in the dark until such advanced stages of our careers. The stark truth is that our medical establishment does not prioritize these aspects of health care. The focus has been pinned narrowly on reproduction, sidelining the quality of life issues that women face daily. This bias is glaringly evident in the scant research on menopause, in the studies on chronic and pelvic pain, in the approach to pain during intercourse, and so many other diseases affecting women/people with ovaries. Progress is stifled, and change—change that could bring about real, tangible improvements in patient care—remains out of grasp.

Why do you do what you do? What keeps you going?

My commitment to aiding the underserved is deeply personal. I grew up a poor immigrant in Missouri, without access to healthcare or essential resources.  It was fucking hard to get to where I am today but I did it. Now that I have resources and privilege, I want to make sure that no one endures such hardships. It  has fueled my passion to amplify the voices of people who are often dismissed or not heard within the healthcare system and open doors for others coming behind me. 

When it comes to women's health, the situation is dire—care is not just inadequate, it’s  distressingly scarce. Frankly, there just aren’t enough doctors in the workforce trained to fully address ALL of women's health concerns outside of reproduction. Consider menopause care: it remains out of reach for many despite the fact that 100% of people with ovaries/women will experience it if they live long enough. Only about 10% of gynecology programs are teaching about menopause. This is exacerbated by the lack of insurance, financial resources, and geographical barriers in both rural and urban settings. Our health insurance models fail to cover crucial medications for many women’s health conditions- this is a fundamental flaw in the system.

As someone who has provided care for both men and women, I've witnessed firsthand the disparity in funding and research between sexes, with women's health often being grossly overlooked. Advocating for equity and justice isn't just a choice for me; it's a necessity. The harsh reality is that the system will not pivot towards change unless we, as women, spearhead that change ourselves.

We are proud leaders in the sexual health & wellness space. It’s an industry that is finally getting attention. What are your hopes for the world of sexual health in the next 5 years?

I want to start a vulvar revolution. I envision a future where comprehensive, affordable, evidence-based care is within everyone's reach—a care that enhances sexual well-being, overall health, and life's quality. Understanding the interconnectedness of sexual health with our overall wellness is so important.  SEXUAL HEALTH IS HEALTH. When people begin to have sexual dysfunction, it can often signal broader mental/physical health issues, and similarly, mental/physical health problems can affect your sexual health. My dream is to create a world where everyone has easy and affordable access to these essential, life saving and life enriching treatments and choices. No one should have to navigate a maze of countless doctors, exhaust their resources, or struggle to find the care they so rightly deserve.

What do you wish more people knew about the industry you’re in?

Through my extensive experience, having consulted with over two thousand individuals, it has become clear to me that women, in particular, are often unaware of the considerable sway they hold in medical environments. Traditionally, the healthcare system has failed to listen to women and take them seriously. This has resulted  in a pattern of invalidation or “gaslighting”  that has been extensively written about.  in a plethora of articles and discussions about gaslighting.Yet, in today's healthcare landscape, which operates much like a business, patient satisfaction is paramount—if the consumer isn't content, the establishment doesn't thrive. Therefore, it is crucial that women equip themselves with an understanding of their own bodies, their rights, and the level of healthcare access they are entitled to. The current disregard for half of the population is appalling. It is time for us to stand collectively and advocate for a deep and widespread change in the system. 

How do we dismantle the male gaze?

To dismantle the male gaze, we have to start having early conversations with our boys frequently. Tearing down the patriarchal structure is important  to erasing the male gaze since patriarchy ensnares all sexes. As a healthcare provider for all sexes, the insights I've gained from men and individuals with penises reveal the deep wounds patriarchy inflicts on them too. It confines them within a narrow definition of existence, preventing them from experiencing the full breadth of human emotion and connection. Such a limitation of one's humanity, dictated by their sex, is unacceptable. This is one of many deep roots of our societal issues—it all traces back to conforming to a patriarchal framework. Our goal must be to dismantle this oppressive structure and rebuild from the ground up.

How do you define pleasure?  

For me, pleasure means freedom-  the freedom of one's own body, the freedom of joy, the contentment and comfort that comes with it, and the thrill of joy and exhilaration. I LOVE  the pursuit of pleasure. I'm forever on a quest to embrace and experience pleasure in its fullness.

What is your non-sexual turn on?

I have a variety of non-sexual turn-ons. Effective communication is crucial for me. Without it, I find it challenging to connect.  Being Nigerian, I am naturally verbose and appreciate someone who can match my wit. I have a passion for learning, so if someone can teach me something in a way that resonates with me, I find it incredibly appealing. Thoughtfulness is another trait I value highly. It warms my heart when people think of me, as I always strive to enhance the lives of those around me. Knowing someone else shares this mindset is special to me.

I also deeply appreciate receiving praise- I have an absolute praise kink. Give me all the genuine compliments and you will win my affection. If you possess the ability to communicate effectively, demonstrate intelligence, and reveal a kind, gentle side, these qualities resonate deeply with me.

Let’s talk lube. Are you a water-based or an oil-based fan?

love an oil based or silicone based lube. 

When do you feel sexiest? 

I feel sexiest when I’m listening to Beyonce and dancing! 

Final thoughts for folks looking to empower themselves sexually?

I believe that shame is the greatest barrier to a healthy sexual life. Growing up in a highly religious Nigerian family, sex was always a taboo subject for me. Despite this, my natural inclination towards the forbidden made me curious about it. Although I consider myself very sex-positive, I recognized that I harbored a lot of sexual shame. Overcoming this required intensive internal work, including soul-searching and becoming comfortable with discomfort.

There are numerous effective therapies that I greatly admire. I am an enthusiastic advocate for EMDR, psychedelic medicine, somatic therapy, breath work, Tantra, and sexological body work. These approaches have been crucial in confronting and processing the shame ingrained in me, a task that requires immense grace and patience. This shame is deeply rooted, often reinforced throughout one's life, particularly in places like the United States where there is a puritanical view of sex.

It’s important to give yourself time and patience. Letting go of these ingrained beliefs is a brave act. It's about living your life freely, without allowing external judgments to invade your personal space, especially your bedroom.

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