Half the population has one, and yet vaginas and gynaecological issues are rarely spoken about at home. A recent survey conducted by The Eve Appeal (2016) found that 65% of the women surveyed were uncomfortable using the words “vagina” and “vulva”, while a shocking 50% of women aged 26-35 were unable to correctly label the vagina on a diagram.
“Vagina” is not a dirty word, and treating it as such can be damaging to people who then go on to believe that they have something shameful between their legs.
Encouraging people to talk about their genitalia is incredibly beneficial to sexual health, but can also build confidence. There are great artists celebrating the diversity of vulvae, from Hilde Atalanta and the Vulva Gallery to The Great Wall of Vagina by Jamie McCartney. Highlighting and celebrating the uniqueness of vulvae is a wonderful way to promote body positivity, while talking about the anatomy with correct terminology is beneficial to sexual education.
Educating people to become proactive about sexual health issues is critical as it can save lives. March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the biggest gynecological killer of women in the UK; knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer is incredibly important as once the disease has spread it is harder to treat.
Symptoms can include fatigue, pelvic and abdominal pain, bloating and difficulty eating due to feeling full and changes in bowel and urinary function.
Talking more openly to people of all ages regarding gynecological cancer can help to protect women, particularly those aged 46-55. The Eve Appeal highlighted that this “danger zone” age range were also the most likely to ignore gynecological symptoms, with 38% hoping that they would disappear on their own.
What’s more, over one in ten 16-35 year olds admitted avoiding going to their GPs about gynecological concerns all together due to embarrassment, which is why we need to get the conversation started.
With SRE being made compulsory in schools by 2019, hopefully people will become more aware of gynecological conditions at a younger age. By normalising the way we discuss gynecological issues and talk about vaginas, hopefully people will feel more confident and will be proactive about taking control of their sexual health.
Good sex education is not just a British issue either; online resource Gynopedia has been set up by Lani Fried to provide people with access to sexual and reproductive health information on a global scale.
Much like Wikipedia, anyone can make a contribution to the site, which Fried created when she realised that she didn’t know how to access birth control when travelling through Asia. This is perhaps something that people take for granted or don’t consider when going abroad, but different countries have different health care laws due to religious, political, historical and cultural issues.
Gynopedia also has information about STIs as well as reproductive health care, making it a fantastic resource for anyone. As it stands, 77 countries are currently featured on the site, offering information about social stigmas and even recommendations of which clinics to visit.
The bottom line is if we don’t talk about vaginal and sexual health in the mainstream, people are going to suffer as a result. Pushing a sex positive message in schools, through health care professionals and online resources will benefit many people in the long term and will hopefully encourage people to speak more openly about gynecological issues in the future.