A while back in my class’s cohort group chat (which just so happens to be all women), a lengthy conversation was sparked by the unexpected discussion that ensued about this poster we spotted in one of The Hive’s cubicles. These posters have appeared above the women’s restrooms at NTU, raising awareness of vaginal health in an accessible and convenient way. While we were very pleased with the effectiveness of the posters and most of the written comments were supportive, it got us thinking about vaginal health and society’s perception of the vagina. Do we really need to be so taciturn about vaginal health?
Regarding the above issue, my fellow students and I both agreed that as a society we continue to sweep the discussion about vaginal health under the rug. Having a vagina is normal, and it’s normal to have occasional problems, but most people shy away from casually talking about it. Even daughters are embarrassed to ask their mothers more about vaginal health. Why should that be so? By continuing to avoid the issue of appropriate female health care, the notion that talking about the vagina is taboo and socially inappropriate is perpetuated; it shouldn’t be like this, vaginal health is valid and relevant!
In addition, this reluctance to engage in open dialogue about vaginal and vulvar care contributes to society’s lack of understanding of women. This can promote a misunderstanding of how to maintain vaginal health due to uninformed hearsay, hindering a woman’s ability to discern her body’s needs and responses, potentially making her more susceptible to disease. In fact, this misinformation about vaginal health can even become a generational problem, where the inability of the mother or female parent figure to properly counsel or raise her daughter prolongs women’s struggles with their bodies.
Facing this lack of dialogue, community, and understanding can be isolating, especially when you are new to vaginal health issues. Personally I’ve struggled with a recurring yeast infection for the past few years and when I recounted the first few times I got it I was extremely confused and didn’t know what to do because I was too embarrassed to look at it to contact my mother or anyone of my friends about it. Until recently I never discussed this with my girlfriends, but the moment I did I was greeted with resounding and unconditional support; I immediately felt less alone. It helped me realize that yeast infections are a common problem in women and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Coming back to the discussion I had with my classmates, I believe that conversations about such intimate feminine issues should be between women and even opposite sexes more often. Not only do they serve to break down and undermine the stigma of vaginal health as a taboo subject by normalizing it, but they also promote a better understanding of vaginal problems and their prevalence. These conversations can also facilitate the formation of a strong female support system, with open sharing of other women’s experiences acting as advice and comfort to those who are concerned with women’s health.
However, education about vaginal hygiene and health should not stop with dealing more openly with the topic. Government institutions can do more to provide women with this basic knowledge. For example, I think our sex education curriculum could be expanded to include chapters on women’s health and hygiene – it would help bring all genders out of the dark on the subject. In addition, you should take responsibility for your own health and take good care of your body and vagina. Follow the advice on the posters (as shown above) and see a GP or gynecologist quickly if you feel unwell. The doctor may request a physical exam based on your symptoms, but be aware that you can always say no if you are unwell and that a female companion should always be present if it takes place. Find out under what circumstances a gynecological examination or a pap smear can be carried out and how the procedure works; It will help you mentally prepare!
Last but not least, reflect the feelings expressed on the poster, learn more about your vagina, take good care of it, know that you should never be ashamed of your own body and that it’s okay about your vaginal health to speak.