September 10 is International Gynaecological Awareness Day. You may well ask: “Why do we need an International Gynaecological Awareness Day?” Well, apparently there are a lot of women out there who still believe the old wives tales when it comes to what’s below a woman’s belt.
Enduring myths include the need to douche to get rid of any smell, talcum powder to keep dry, not needing a condom beyond menopause, having the HPV vaccine means you don’t need a Pap test, it’s normal to have painful periods and painful sex after menopause is to be expected.
Jean Hailes gynaecologist and founding director Dr Elizabeth Farrell AM says that this is an area of health that is often swept under the carpet due to embarrassment and because women feel they should just ‘get on with it’.
A recent survey of 1,000 women by UK women’s cancer charity The Eve Appeal identified a knowledge gap between generations of women, finding that young women are more embarrassed to talk about or visit a doctor about gynaecological health issues.
The survey revealed that half of young women aged 26-35 had difficulty identifying a vagina in a medical diagram; and nearly 40% of 16-25 year olds use code names such as ‘lady parts’ or ‘women’s bits’ to discuss gynaecological health.
Many women either feel embarrassed or are so busy juggling families and work commitments, that they put themselves and their health last and they don’t talk to their doctor,” says Dr Farrell. “But if the woman in the family is not well, she is not going to be able to manage her family and her life.”
“Learn the facts and ensure you visit your GP or gynaecologist regularly or if you have any concerns.”
7 Common Myths Debunked
Myth: Painful or heavy periods are normal
Fact: If your period is so painful that you have to take time off work or school it is not normal and should be checked. If you need to change pads every hour or you have to use maternity or night pads regularly, see a GP or gynaecologist for further investigation.
Myth: Girls and young women who have the HPV vaccine don’t need to use condoms or have Pap smears
Fact: This vaccine protects against about 70% of the causes of cervical cancer and protects against some STIs. Condoms and regular Pap smears are important.
Myth: Vaginal discharge must be ‘thrush’
Fact: Discharge can be normal vaginal secretions. If associated with itching it may be ‘thrush’ (a yeast infection) but there are many other reasons for discharge such as infections, allergies or other skin conditions. See your GP if you are concerned.
Myth: Douching gets rid of female odours
Fact: Douching is a method to wash out the vagina (either made of water and vinegar or sold as a spray or in a bottle). Don’t douche or use talcum powder on the vagina as you will upset the balance of bacteria and may cause an infection. Wash with water, wear cotton underwear and if you do notice a change in your normal odour see your GP.
Myth: If you are on the Pill continuously, blood builds up inside the uterus
Fact: This is an old wives tale. The lining of the uterus remains thin when you take the Pill. No blood builds up in the uterus.
Myth: Women don’t need to use condoms after menopause
Fact: Doctors report seeing more postmenopausal women with sexually transmissible infections (STIs) such as chlamydia because they are entering new sexual relationships and not using condoms. For those in new relationships, condoms are your protection against STIs.
Myth: Painful sexual intercourse is part of life after menopause
Fact: After menopause the skin around the vagina and vaginal entrance loses elasticity so sex may become painful. But there are treatments to help, such as vaginal oestrogen preparations that improve skin collagen and elasticity and lubricants to improve comfort during sex.
Find out more information about gynaecological and reproductive health at www.jeanhailes.org.au