Turning Cervical Health Awareness Month Into A Shame-Free Conversation About Lady Parts

January is cervical health awareness month and as women’s health, especially reproductive health, is vitally important to us, this year we teamed up with two advocacy organizations, Healthy Women and National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) with support from Hologic, to bring attention to this issue in a fun campaign.

Since it is a new year, there has never been a better time to put your health at the top of a list of resolutions, especially if you reside in the US. With many women on edge about what may happen to certain types of health coverage in 2017 and beyond, ensuring you take the time this month to see your medical practitioner is a must. Consider this post your annual reminder!

Look, we all know that the majority of people making crucial policy decisions and commentary about women’s health are overwhelmingly men, so it’s time to take back the narrative this year and engage women to raise their voices. The more we speak out, the more stigma and fear we can break down around certain types of women’s health, and the more empowering it becomes for women to ask questions, know the facts, share their experiences sans shame & judgement, and stay healthy.

The NPWH and Healthy Women campaign, “Sentiments from the Stirrups” is not just about knowing the data around cervical health, it’s about hearing the everyday voices from other women who understand that taking the time to strip down to the gown and place your feet in those stirrups can ensure one of the most preventable cancers in the US doesn’t happen to them. We asked a couple of women to share their experiences for our readers.

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I’ll be honest, I always dread my annual cervical health check ups, but not for the reason you may think. You know that YouTube video about the woman with an 8-mile wide vagina? Well, mine’s more like 8 millimeters! I remember one check-up I had at a Planned Parenthood where this was finally acknowledged. All naked from the waist down under that good-for-nothing “sheet”, the doctor came in, spread my legs and said to her assistant “Can you please get me the child’s speculum?”

I was like, “Thank the Goddesses!!!” So, if you are concerned about whether your vagina may be different to others’, don’t feel ashamed, just remember that you can ask questions. Oh, and thank the Goddesses for women’s health clinics because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to afford regular health check-ups, and I’ve maintained my health because of this. I thank those clinics and doctors with all my heart and even though I dread the exams, I know how important they are and my health is worth it!”  

-Stirrup Sentiment from Cameron Airen, Feminist Writer, Interviewer, Coach & Host of Real Feminist Stories Podcast & Blog.

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In many parts of the country, there are still many women and girls who grow up without an empowering sense of how to know their bodies and talk about medical issues with their practitioners. According to the CDC, more than 12,000 women will learn they have cervical cancer this year, and more than 4,000 will die from it. This is tragic because the Pap test is the most successful cancer screening tool in history.

Cervical cancer used to be one of the most fatal cancers among women, but death rates have declined up to 70% since the introduction of the screening in the 1950’s. More recently, with the introduction of the HPV test and vaccination being recommended along with Pap tests, cancer rates continue to decline due to the effectiveness of both being administered together. Early detection is key, which is why the medical community recommends women start getting the Pap test from age 21-29, and both the Pap test and HPV test between the ages of 30-65.

Often it takes a light-hearted approach to encourage women to not feel intimidated about such an intimate issue like cervical health. NPWH, Healthy Women & Hologic conducted a survey of 1000 women and found a varied range of thoughts, questions and decisions being discussed internally by women as they prepare for their annual screening appointment.

Four in five women surveyed preferred to wear granny panties over lingerie while being examined, 80% of women prefer to keep their socks on in the stirrups, and 7 in 10 women take extra time bathing or showering before their appointment. Clearly there is a lot of preparation going into this exam! However, we still have more ground to break in order to ensure women don’t leave their health practitioner with unanswered questions.

According to the same survey, among women in their 30’s, 61% think about their sex life during their exam, but only 42% bring it up. If there is one place and time where there should be no shame, stigma, or judgement about your sex life, it is your cervical health exam. Also, women are 26% more likely to talk about the weather than their sex life. We all know how important climate change is right now, but we can’t fight that battle if half the population isn’t equipped to take care of their own bodies!

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“I’ve been kind of seeing this guy who’s like into BDSM?” I announced to my gynecologist as she felt my breasts for lumps. Her brow furrowed as she glanced up at me, concerned, and I realized this might be TMI even for her. I had recently had sex with this Christian Grey-ish type person who was very put together and generically Americana handsome in his expensive gray suit, but also happened to be a literal freak in the sheets. I had sex with him and then found out I had chlamydia, but ironically it was not from him that I’d contracted the STD but from the nice DILF I’d known for years through theatre and had just recently gotten into bed.

My gyno told me to be careful and I was reminded that she was a mother herself, and probably the thought of her own daughter making such a confession would be her worst nightmare. I assured her I was fine, I was in control, I was even getting better about using condoms with strangers. When I told her that I thought being on the pill dis-incentivized condoms for me, she said she was much more worried about me getting pregnant.

I loved my gyno. I felt comfortable with her. I told her what was really going on and she gave me comforting maternal advice. I trusted her with my vulva and my life. Then I was forced to switch insurance because my employment situation changed and she was no longer covered. I went back on the market.

When I found out that women’s healthcare options were going to change this year my first instinct was to make an appointment with my practitioner to stay on top of things. My new gyno was nice as she took me through my options. I settled on the copper IUD, a hormone-free option that lasts ten years, in case Trump is President for eight years, I lose my health coverage, and Pence successfully rolls back Roe v. Wade.

My gynecologist said she had to order the copper IUD first to make sure the health insurance company would actually pay for it, because she’d been saddled with the bill in the past when insurance companies said they’d reimburse her and then refused to once she’d already paid out of pocket. Then, she said, when it was time to perform the procedure, she would take me to another building next door on her lunch hour to put in the IUD, because this was a Catholic hospital and she wasn’t allowed to be on the clock when she administered birth control. She said it without blinking but my head almost did a full 360 when these words left her mouth.

“WHAT?!” I said. “Are you kidding?”

“It’s okay,” she assured me, putting her hands up as if to say, Relax, lady.

This is her life. She deals with this kind of stuff daily.  I sit back and complain on the Internet and onstage about the absurd injustice of it all, but these people are doing the real work. The doctors and medical professionals who ensure women get the healthcare they need are true heroes. I feel confident knowing I can sit back in the stirrups, and put my life and vagina (literally) in the hands of my gynecologist.

-Stirrup Sentiment by Ava Bogle, writer/comedian/feminist sex blogger at www.diaryofasluttyfeminist.com.

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Our message is simple – don’t put off your cervical health examination for another day. Getting screened early can literally save your life. The more we can be empowered to talk openly and honestly with our healthcare providers, the less likely we are to feel fear or judgment about our bodies. It doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. Choosing a fancy pair of underwear or socks might be just the key to making it easier to get into the stirrups.

Taking control over your sexual and reproductive health shouldn’t be a hard choice. Ladies, we have a resistance to join, so consider it your patriotic duty to get yourself examined today. But seriously, to learn more about cervical health screenings, visit HealthyWomen.org, and talk to your medical practitioner about Pap+HPV screenings at your next gynecological appointment.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by us with support from Hologic. The opinions and text are all ours.

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