A while ago, in my course’s cohort group chat (which is coincidentally all female), a lengthy conversation was sparked by the unexpected discussion that took place on this poster we spotted in one of The Hive’s cubicles. These posters have been popping up across the female toilets in NTU, and they raise awareness about vaginal health in an accessible and comfortable way. While we were quite pleased with how effective the posters were and supportive most of the written comments were, it got us thinking about vaginal health and societal perceptions of the vagina. Is there really a need for us to be so hush hush about vaginal health?
Regarding the aforementioned topic, my coursemates and I agreed that as a society, we continue to brush the discussion of vaginal health under the carpet. Having a vagina is normal and for it to face issues occasionally is also normal, yet most people shy away from talking about it casually. Even daughters are embarrassed to ask their mothers more about vaginal health. Why should this be the case? By continuing to avoid the topic of proper female healthcare, it perpetuates the idea that talking about the vagina is taboo and socially inappropriate; it shouldn’t be this way, vaginal health is valid and relevant!
Moreover, this aversion towards open dialogue regarding vaginal and vulvar care contributes to society’s lack of understanding surrounding women. This may promote an incorrect understanding of how to maintain vaginal health based on uninformed hearsay, impeding a woman’s ability to recognise her body’s needs and reactions, possibly making her more susceptible to illness. In fact, this misinformation surrounding vaginal health may even develop into a generational issue, whereby the mother or female parental figure’s inability to correctly advise or educate their daughter, prolongs womens’ struggles with their body.
Facing this lack of dialogue, community, and understanding can be isolating, especially when you’re experiencing vaginal health issues for the first time. Personally, I have been struggling with a recurrent yeast infection for the past few years, and recounting the first few times I got it, I was extremely confused and at a loss at what to do because I was too embarrassed to approach my mother or any of my friends about it. Even until recently, I never talked about it with my female friends, but the moment I did, I was met with resounding and unconditional support; I instantly felt less alone. It helped me realise that yeast infections are a common issue women face and that it was nothing to be ashamed of.
Returning to the discussion I had with my coursemates, I believe that conversations on such intimate female topics should occur between women and even other genders more often. Not only do they act to dismantle and erode the stigma of vaginal health as a taboo topic by normalising it, they also promote a better understanding of vaginal problems and how common they are. These conversations may also facilitate the formation of a strong female support system, whereby the open sharing of the experiences of other women function as advice and comfort for those grappling with feminine health.
However, education surrounding vaginal hygiene and health should not stop with being more open with the topic. Government institutions can be doing more to impart such essential knowledge to women. For instance, I believe that our sexual education syllabus can be expanded to include chapters on feminine health and hygiene–it would help to bring all genders out of the dark surrounding the subject. Not only that, one should take responsibility for their own health and take good care of their own body and their vagina. Follow the advice shown on the posters (like the one shown above) and see a general practitioner or a gynaecologist quickly if you feel unwell. The doctor may request to do a physical examination based on your symptoms, but know that you can always say no if you feel uncomfortable, and that a female chaperone should always be present should it take place. Read up on the circumstances under which a pelvic examination or a PAP smear may occur, and what the process will be like; it will help you to mentally prepare yourself!
Last, but not least, mirroring the sentiments expressed on the poster, learn more about your vagina, take care of it well, know that you should never be ashamed of your own body, and that it is okay to talk about your vaginal health.