Young women embarrassed to say ‘vagina’, ‘orgasm’

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In a newly published survey, Ovarian Cancer Action, UK has found that more than half young women tend to avoid seeking professional help when it comes to gynaecological issues owing to embarrassment and fear of intimate examination.

The survey further found that these women would rather turn to Google and search for help online. The survey was commissioned to encourage younger women speak up about gynaecological health issues; highlight the symptoms of ovarian cancer; and address the misconception that ovarian cancer only occurs in older women.

According to OCA, young British women (aged 18-24) are four times less likely to consult a doctor when it comes to sexual health issue than their 55-64 year old counterparts.

Some of the top reasons for this hesitation include being scared of being intimately examined (48 per cent); being embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues (44 per cent); and not knowing what words to use (26 per cent).

The survey also found that two thirds of the participants (66 per cent) were embarrassed to say the word ‘vagina’; however, this embarrassment factor dropped significantly in case of older women, with just one in 10 (11 per cent) women aged 65 or over saying they’d be shy saying ‘vagina’ to a healthcare professional.

Some of the other words that seem to cause considerable embarrassment among the young but not among the older women include ‘orgasm’ (64 per cent and 21 per cent respectively), ‘labia’ (60 per cent and 14 per cent respectively), and ‘discharge’ (56 per cent and 5 per cent respectively).

The survey highlighted that instead of seeking medical help, more than half of younger women (57 per cent) say they would turn to google, with an additional one in five (17 per cent) preferring to confide in their mums. Just 17 per cent of the younger age group say they would initially seek medical help if they suspected a gynaecological or sexual health problem, compared with 68 per cent of the older age group, who would turn to a doctor straight away.

Another startling finding was that one in six have made appointments only to cancel them because they were too embarrassed to discuss gynaecological issues and one in five (18 per cent) have completely ignored a sexual health issue.

Katherine Taylor, Acting Chief Executive at Ovarian Cancer Action, said that the findings are really worrying specifically the reluctance to see a doctor for gynaecological issues as use of Google to check out information on symptoms is not a substitute for proper medical attention.

“Illnesses such as ovarian cancer – which kills a woman every two hours in the UK – is much easier to treat if it’s diagnosed early, so it’s incredibly important that women feel empowered to talk about their health and feel comfortable visiting healthcare professionals”, she added.

“It’s so important that women are empowered to discuss these issues. Saying vagina won’t kill you, but avoiding saying it could.”

When asked to identify a symptom of ovarian cancer more than a third (38 per cent) of young women couldn’t name any. Only one in 10 (11 per cent) knew that bloating could be an indication and one in five (21 per cent) identified tummy pain as being a sign. None of the 1000 participants identified the need to pee more frequently or feeling full more quickly as a symptom of ovarian cancer. Only one in ten (11 per cent) young women said knowing their family history would encourage them to seek medical advice, despite 20 per cent of ovarian cancers being a result of a genetic predisposition.