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Amelia is a medical student at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University. She is committed to disseminating science, health, and medical information to a diverse audience.

Let's End the Hysteria

Let's End the Hysteria

To all those out there with vaginas, friends with vaginas, lovers with vaginas, or knowledge of the existence of vaginas, it’s time to look in the whispering eye and say: “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.”

Just because they aren’t worn loudly and proudly, swinging out and about on the groin area like penises, doesn’t mean that vaginas must be confined to the shadows like wallflowers–  and it certainly doesn’t mean that we should be squeamish when talking about keeping the area from the vulva to the cervix healthy.

We have plenty of orifices, like our noses, ears, and mouths which cross the liminal boundary between “inner” and “outer” body parts– what makes it so hard to talk about vaginas?

Perhaps it’s the age-old belief that vaginas are “dirty,” or that menstrual periods are disgusting or impure– back in the day some believed that a menstruating woman could “sour meat” or make seeds sterile. Don’t even get me started on bizarre beliefs about vagina dentata.

Whatever it is, even aspiring lady doctor like myself (female physician, not lady-parts doctor, just to be clear) often finds those nether regions pretty, well, scary.

Just last month, when asked by my gynecologist if I do self-exams to check my vaginal health and to check that my IUD is properly placed, I revealed to her that I don’t ever “go up there” for maintenance or housekeeping. I wouldn’t describe myself as prudish, but here I was admitting that I wouldn’t touch my own cervix– even when told to explicitly by my doctor.

I was told later that day by my primary care physician that she sometimes hesitates to recommend my gynecologist to younger female patients because her encouragement of self-examining one’s uterus, cervix, and labia, along with her vocally pro-women’s-health style, often scares young girls who “aren’t as in touch with their bodies.”

Now I’m not saying that to be “in touch” with one’s body that you literally need to be able to touch each part of your body without any sense of ickyness (e.g. eye boogers are gross), but come on ladies, let’s be pro vagina.

If we’re not playing for our own team, who will?

We all have a right to a gynecologist or general physician that makes us feel comfortable, at ease, and empowered to ask questions and help keep ourselves healthy. But we also have an obligation to our bodies not to designate certain areas as “off limits,” “dirty,” or “gross.”

It’s time to walk outside the red tent.

I know vaginas can be intimidating. And yes, most of us have been taught either explicitly or indirectly that the female anatomy is mysterious, dirty, or off-limits. Truly embracing one’s body– especially the hidden and intimate parts– is a challenge for most of us. Accepting the dark corners and mystifying anatomy of the vagina is no easy task; just like anything women ever have to do it’s made ten times harder by misinformation, negative stereotypes, and the belief that certain topics are hush-hush or off the table.

So think of your gynecologist as your vaginal tour guide. Don’t hesitate to speak up if you think something’s off, or wrong, or you just have questions. Feel empowered by the opportunity to know the ins and outs of your own body and be your own health advocate.

Just always be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after.