As an OB-GYN in a busy gynaecology outpatient clinic, it is not unusual to see women self-consciously and reluctantly telling you issues they deem embarrassing to talk about. The way they lean forward with uncomfortable body language makes you almost sense what’s coming next:
“I have this issue of foul-smelling vaginal discharge…”
“I can not hold my pee…”
“Sex is too painful for me…”
“I feel as if I am inadequate for my man after my menopause…”
“I have severe pain during my periods; everyone thinks it’s normal…”
What are the taboo topics for women’s health?
Many women’s health-related issues are intentionally avoided and brushed under the carpet. A conversation about them is deemed socially inappropriate and is often associated with strong feelings of shame and modesty. Due to the stigma surrounding these topics, women often suffer in isolation in times when they need support the most.
Menstrual taboos continue to exist and thrive in the modern world, refraining women from expressing their genuine issues. The notion of female emotions being controlled by their cyclical hormonal variations is etched into many minds. This serves as a hindrance preventing women from speaking up and seeking support.
Premenstrual syndrome, simply termed “PMS,” is stigmatized and discussions about it are often hushed. Similarly, girls from an early age are guided into thinking that menstrual pain is “natural” and “something not to be worried about.” Severe dysmenorrhea can be quite debilitating at times and can have underlying causes like endometriosis. Breaking the silence around these problems is essential for women to get support for their menstrual health.
Vaginal discharge and vaginal infections are another stigma topic. Women tend to try home remedies and many bogus vaginal products before they seek professional help. Furthermore, even in today’s world, there is limited knowledge and awareness about safe sexual practices. This causes a considerable burden of sexually transmitted diseases on healthcare systems.
The physical and emotional struggles of women experiencing these troublesome symptoms need an understanding, accepting and empathetic society. Educating and empowering girls through open conversations about safe sexual practices is an important aspect of women’s well-being.
Some of the common intimate problems women face are painful sex and lack of sexual arousal and gratification. The subject remains shrouded in silence, contributing to myths and misinformation. Women remain reluctant to seek support and continue living with a negative body image, which affects their self-esteem negatively.
Problems like vaginal laxity and reduced sexual sensations after childbirth can be effectively treated with minimally invasive vaginal rejuvenation treatments. Physical body changes occurring with aging, after childbearing and menopause should not hold one back from a gratifying intimacy. Breaking the silence around these issues and their emerging treatments is essential for the intimate well-being of women.
Birth control and abortions
Talks about birth control and abortions are also silenced in certain societies. This leads to a lack of education and awareness about contraceptive methods. When a society makes the subject of contraception a taboo, unwanted pregnancies occur. Unsafe and illegal abortions are common in such communities.
Many women in developing countries undergo multiple induced abortions because they don’t know the long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, or they don’t have access to them. Encouraging open talk about these topics would help dismantle the stigma surrounding them and help women make informed choices for their reproductive health.
The last great taboo subject in a woman’s life is menopause or “the change,” as it is commonly called. Women don’t share this hormonal transition as society perceives it as a compromising factor in a woman’s cognitive ability. Stereotyping menopause as an end of “youth” can make women lose their sense of femininity. They become hesitant to share their experiences at this natural stage of life.
A supportive and more inclusive environment would motivate them to seek professional support. Many women live a third of their lives in this phase; hence, menopausal well-being is integral to women’s health. Strategies to cope with symptoms like hot flashes and lifestyle changes to enhance bone health and prevent osteoporosis need to be discussed.
Health education in communities is the need of the hour because, even in this era, there are a lot of myths and uncertainties when it comes to women’s health. A genuine and bothersome issue may be shrugged off as “simply part of being a woman” or “normal physiology.” At other times, the problems are hushed as they are deemed inappropriate and embarrassing to talk about.
Women, being the primary caregivers of a family, deserve the same level of care. When it comes to their intimate well-being, break the taboos by imparting awareness and supporting them to make informed choices about their health.
About the Author
Dr. Jehan Ara is a highly qualified consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist with a passion for writing and health education. She has more than 10 years of practical patient care experience. She is currently working as an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in a medical school and a clinical supervisor for post graduate residents of obstetrics and gynaecology in the affiliated teaching hospital. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Jehan is also a passionate writer and educator. She regularly writes articles and blog posts on women’s health. She is committed to helping women understand their bodies and make informed decisions about their health.