Shame. About our body. Sex. Periods. It’s heartbreaking. And not only does it lead to so much pain, physically, mentally and emotionally. But it may be taking so much more from us than we realise.
## Embarrassed about our bodies
A study found that 45% of young women put off having a smear test.[^3] Despite cervical cancer being the fourth most common cancer among women globally. A cancer that led to an estimated 342,000 deaths in 2020.[^2]
So what was the reason for putting off going?
![[Women reveal the reasons they don’t go for smear tests.excalidraw.png]]
71% reported feeling scared. 75% reported feeling vulnerable. But a significant 81% of women said they felt embarrassed.
Which I guess is no surprise. Not when 65% of women struggle even to say the word vagina or vulva. Instead, they resort to code names when discussing gynaecological health.[^4] Code names such as ‘lady parts’ or ‘women’s bits’.
## Women don't know their own anatomy
Maybe the reason women struggle is that they don't know their anatomy. Something a survey found to be the case in 2019.[^5]
![[Women don't know their own anatomy.excalidraw.png]]
Two thousand adults in the UK took a short sex ed-style quiz. They labelled the clitoris, labia, vagina, and urethra on an anatomy chart. And answered questions about the clitoris, when to replace tampons and how to keep a vagina clean.
- Almost half of the women (45%) could not identify the vagina
- 55% did not know where the urethra is
- 43% could not locate the labia
- A third of women (and men) did not know what the clitoris was
- 14% believe they need to wash the inside of the vagina with water and soap daily
The truth is that there is a worrying lack of knowledge among women about how their body and how it works.
## Younger women know less
I assumed that as women, as a society, we are becoming more open about women's health and the female body. I assumed it was easier for women of younger generations. To talk about sex, menstrual cycles, and female genitals. And I'm not alone.
Over 60% of women think younger women are more knowledgeable about gynaecological health. At least, that’s what a survey found. That we believe younger women know more than older women. [^4] But we are wrong. Turns out, it's a misconception.
A study found that a lack of basic anatomical knowledge is an issue. Especially for women in the younger age groups. Yet older women were much more educated about their bodies.[^4]
The study found that 20% of young women can't recognise symptoms of gynaecological cancer. And less than a quarter feel confident they know enough about gynaecological issues. This was in contrast to over 42% of older women who felt well-informed about the same issues.
The fact is, 1 in 10 young women find it difficult to talk to their GPs about gynaecological health concerns. And almost one in three young women admit they avoid going to the doctor due to embarrassment.
## Things need to change
We live in a culture that appears to have no taboos left. And yet they still prevail. Female genitals. menstrual cycle. Periods. Sex. It's still there. We are (as a society) still embarrassed about our bodies and what they do. And this taboo, this shame, is not only heartbreaking, it's deadly.
The first step to breaking this taboo is accepting it exists in the first place. Do you feel embarrassed to say the word vagina, vulva or clitoris? Do you feel shame about your own body?
Do you feel comfortable visiting your GP with gynaecological issues? Are you avoiding your smear test?
Be honest. Recognise they are there. Accept them. Investigate why they exist in the first place.
We also need to educate ourselves. Do you know your own anatomy? Do you know where your vulva, clitoris, labia, vagina, and urethra are? Please note there is no shaming here if you don't.[^1] It's a chance to take stock and appreciate it's worth learning about.
And finally, we need to educate our children. We need to use the correct terminology and talk openly about our bodies. We need to teach them that shame is not welcome here.
Often, we are afraid of discussing something because we don’t understand it. Hence, awareness and education are key. After all, it could save a life.
[^1]: I only learned about my own female anatomy in my mid-30s. Before that, I had no idea. And when I started learning, I felt ashamed I didn't know this before. But shame doesn't get us anywhere. There is still so much I don't know about women's health. I cannot know everything. But I will not let shame stand in the way of me learning more and passing on the knowledge I do have to other women.
[^2]: _Cervical cancer_ (no date). Available at: [https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cervical-cancer](https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cervical-cancer) (Accessed: 19 January 2023).
[^3]: Young, S. (2019) _Women reveal the reasons they don’t go for smear tests_, _The Independent_. Available at: [https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/smear-test-cervical-screening-attend-reason-embarrassment-jos-cervical-cancer-trust-a8738416.html](https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/smear-test-cervical-screening-attend-reason-embarrassment-jos-cervical-cancer-trust-a8738416.html)
[^4]: Morrissey, H. (2016) ‘Why “vagina” should be part of every young woman’s vocabulary’, _The Eve Appeal_ [Preprint]. Available at: [https://eveappeal.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/The-Eve-Appeal-Vagina-Dialogues.pdf](https://eveappeal.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/The-Eve-Appeal-Vagina-Dialogues.pdf).
[^5]: Waldersee, V. (2019) ’Half of Brits don’t know where the vagina is - and it’s not just the men’, Available at: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/health/articles-reports/2019/03/08/half-brits-dont-know-where-vagina-and-its-not-just