It’s always fun to see what our friends are up to across the water in Guernsey, and we Channel Islands love nothing more than comparing ourselves to whatever it looks like our sister island.
But this week, let’s give a thought to all of those in Guernsey who are most angry about their government’s attempt to be inclusive when they share a tweet encouraging people to give up.
The tweet from the States of Guernsey said: “This year, the Bailiwick cervical screening awareness campaign will start today (June 7th) and last for three weeks. This encourages anyone with a cervix to have their free screening appointment if invited. ‘
It was the “anyone with a cervix” set that raised more than a few eyebrows and generated all sorts of reactions from those who tried to be funny – including whether their bitch with a cervix was an option – to those who were outraged that the government should try to get women out of the narrative entirely.
A few hours later, in response to the hundreds of responses to her tweet, the government tried to clarify why they had used such language, saying, “Free cervical screening is available to anyone who has a cervix, which women don’t – binary people, trans * means men and intersex people through your GP, the Orchard Center and Choices. ‘
We all knew what they were trying to achieve with that first tweet, of course, and they had noble intentions, but maybe it just wasn’t very well thought out and executed.
But let’s leave the pc madness debate for another day, along with discussions about the government’s questionable slogan for the campaign ordering people to “drop their pants.”
Because this tweet and the fallout that followed raised a separate topic that deserves attention – an alarming number of women don’t know they have a cervix, let alone where it is in the body.
According to an American survey published in the UK press last year, only one in ten women could correctly identify a chart of a woman’s reproductive system, while almost one in four misidentified the vagina and 46% had no idea where the cervix was . These and similar surveys show that there are clearly large gaps in knowledge about our own bodies.
And that got me thinking about another columnar topic that has been brewing for some time – when and how we talk to our children not only about sex but also about their own reproductive organs.
I admit that it was only recently during infertility treatment that I really learned how certain parts of my own body work (or, in my case, should work).
And I would probably still have trouble identifying some parts of the female anatomy on a diagram, especially with the correct terminology.
I would imagine a lot of men are in the same boat about their own bodies and that’s before we even begin to understand how the body of the opposite sex works.
And while we don’t all need in-depth knowledge of how the body works – no matter what part of it – unless we are a doctor or other specialist for whom such information is an integral part of their job, this Guernsey example shows that we could use anything if you know the basics.
This is precisely why we need to think about how and why we teach children such things from an early age.
The NSPCC’s Pantosaurus campaign, which has been going on for several years, is designed to start the conversation about “private parts” and why no one should ask to see or touch them, except perhaps a nurse, doctor, or family member in certain circumstances.
The message that we should use correct anatomical language such as the penis and vulva in our children so that they can communicate properly through their bodies when needed, at a young age and in adulthood, is getting more and more popular.
But it’s clearly not just about the education of our youngest children, but also about ourselves.
And it’s about equipping ourselves with that knowledge so that we can take care of our bodies both by coming to check-ups when they’re applicable and due, and by knowing the signs of what’s normal and what’s not.
Being comfortable with our own bodies also begins with being aware of it, and as a community we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about these things. Treating such discussions as taboo just means that more of us don’t know whether we have a cervix or not, what it’s doing, or why it’s important to have it checked out regularly after a certain age.
This week’s Guernsey tweet certainly got people talking on both islands, and the government made sure of that a bit.
But it started a conversation not only about integrative language, but hopefully also about our bodies.
PS: If you’re a woman, aged 25 to 64, or fit into any of the other categories listed above and have a cervix, you are eligible for free Jersey cervical screening, with swabs recommended every three years. Please go to your test when it’s due – it’s quick, painless, and the doctors and nurses who do the tests have seen it all many times.
PPS: The cervix is a cylindrical tissue neck that connects the vagina and the uterus. It’s located right at the bottom of the uterus and is usually two to three inches long.