Even though our society is more advanced in some ways than it ever has been, many women’s health issues are still taboo to talk about. One study showed that women feel like they need to keep silent about their health issues—even at the cost of their mental health. That’s why now is the perfect time to start the conversation. Speaking publicly about stigmatized medical conditions can help reduce their shame. Below are women’s health concerns that we could use to talk more openly about.
Reproductive Issues Still Face Taboo
Some women’s health issues are common, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to talk about or even that they are very well-studied. Only 2.5% of research funding goes to reproductive issues, though one-third of women will face them. The feeling of being alone and defective is pervasive, even as the conditions are common and often unavoidable.
Even more universal is the experience of periods. Women get them, whether they want them or not. And yet, period shame abounds, with 42% of women reporting having been shamed by men about menstruating and 60% feeling embarrassment each time they menstruate. Getting a period is as natural for women as urination, yet women face consequences for a biological function they can’t control.
Another common yet invisible health condition that women often suffer in silence with is pelvic organ prolapse. Though it occurs in half of women over the age of 50, many women are too ashamed to bring up the problem with their healthcare provider. In fact, when asked how they felt about the condition, women used words to describe feeling “defective, frustrated, isolated, stunned, alone,” and more—none of which reflect how widespread the condition is.
Women feel unnecessary humiliation about many other health issues, as well. Shockingly, two-thirds of women surveyed by Women’s Health have experienced mild incontinence, and nearly all of them find their bladder weakness embarrassing. Thirty percent of women feel that women who are infertile have character flaws. People wrongly associate ovarian cancer with promiscuity, and this stigma means that a quarter of women will not discuss their sexual histories with their doctors. Three in four women will have a yeast infection at some point, and yet they are treated as unnatural and unhygienic conditions. Rather than a sign of an unsanitary lifestyle, yeast infections usually result from the use of antibiotics, increased estrogen, diabetes, or being immunocompromised.
Vaginal dryness, too, suffers from stigma, though one in three women will experience it when they enter menopause. Many symptoms of menopause are stigmatized, which means that 90% of women don’t seek treatment for issues like vaginal dryness. Since vaginal dryness doesn’t tend to improve without treatment (and products are available that can help end vaginal dryness), women may suffer for years unnecessarily.
The Consequences of the Taboo Surrounding Women’s Health Issues
The stigma surrounding “embarrassing” health conditions has real-life medical consequences for women around the globe. Without early detection, many diseases that are otherwise treatable could be fatal instead. Continued silence around perfectly normal conditions is a massive roadblock to improving women’s health issues as a whole.
Struggling privately will only allow stigma to grow. On the other hand, speaking freely and boldly about your conditions will help others feel more comfortable speaking up about their issues. And better yet, you’ll probably find a community of people who are going through something similar. Talking to women about what has worked for them, doctors they trust, and how they overcame medical issues can help usher in a new, brighter future for all of women’s health.