Words || Georgia Davies
Vagina. Pussy. Crotch. Fanny. A part of our bodies with a million exciting names, however let me ask you the question: When was the last time you got yours checked?
According to NHS UK one in three British women do not attend smear tests because of ‘embarrassment’. To make matters worse, these smear tests are only routinely offered to women who are aged between 25-49. Thus, the demographics of young adult and women over fifty are excluded. Most women can sympathise with this predicament. Nothing says ‘bad day’ like having a freezing plastic speculum shoved up a hole it does not seem like it can fit into. Fortunately, the pros far, far out weigh the cons. The mantra ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’ is often applied to those suffering from substance addiction. Here, it can aptly be applied to people with uteruses women: far more of us than we care to admit. Sexual health remains a taboo topic in social circles, universities and even hospitals. It is time to reclaim personal health, for both men and women, to discard embarrassment and help save millions of pointlessly itchy ‘vajayjays’.
Globally, there is an epidemic of STDs, with threats of super-gonorrhoea, infections that are antibiotic resistant and a whole host of others that you’ve probably never even heard of. This super gonorrhoea has been declared resistant to all forms of antibiotics found in Australia. Once you’ve got it, it might be for good. Yet, it is still uncommon for people to get checked, leading to a propagation of sexually transmitted diseases and far more discomfort.
Each year, 900 British women die annually from cervical cancer. There is no official data on whether these issues may have been found sooner if there was more access to sexual health screenings. However, with one in three women not attending smear tests, it is clear that something is wrong with the way we view access to sexual health.
This comes with two issues. Firstly, it is that women’s pain is often not verbalised or validated. Severe period pain is considered the norm, with some women battling for decades to be diagnosed with issues like endometriosis. Access to help for these issues is often not prioritised and it can be frustrating to feel that your pain is not being taken seriously. The second issue is one of embarrassment. Many people feel ashamed of what personal areas may look like and do not feel like have anyone to ask. Perhaps verbalising, and making it more acceptable to discuss, these taboo topics might help.
I once spoke to a routine NHS nurse who said that a majority of women she saw about complaints in the vulva region could have had their problems sorted out in no time if they had come in weeks earlier. She stated that time after time, most of the women said they did not come in because they felt ‘embarrassed’ for what was going on in their private parts. What she did say was that she wholeheartedly believed that women should have someone to speak to in regards to those awkward questions. From asking about nipple colours to vaginal discharge: it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s a necessity.
It really is time to reclaim reproductive health. It is not acceptable for anyone with a uterus to feel that the bodies they are in are not their own, that embarrassment will arise because they worry about how others will receive it. Ultimately, sexual health is a deeply personal issue. Nobody has a right to tell you how to deal with personal issues – providing you’re not hurting anyone else by doing so. However, something must be said for breaking the stigma of addressing these key STD issues. Going to a sexual health clinic or your local doctor should not be something that gives you worry or anxiety. Instead, it should be something which is as run of the mill as visiting the dentist. Uncomfortable, perhaps, but better in the long run.
At the end of the day, most people do not like being prodded by a doctor. However, for those lucky enough to have healthcare, it seems a small price to pay. Checking yourself isn’t all about others. There are many ways to prevent the spread of STDs and that cannot fall to one person alone. But you do have a responsibility, one that matters above all others: to yourself and your ability to ask questions about your own body. Without shame or embarrassment. Even if it is asking ‘do you think my boobs look bigger today?’