Young British women could die from embarrassment…literally

If you believed only half of the media stories about young women nightly binge drinking their way to a public drunken stupor and dreaming of their annual trip to Magaluf to hook up with as many sexual partners as you can fit into a fortnight, you could be forgiven for thinking that inhibition and modesty were outmoded concepts no longer appropriate in contemporary Britain.

But, thankfully, not every woman is a Kardashian or a wannabe Britney Spears; far from it.

If the latest study conducted by the Ovarian Cancer Action charity is to be believed, a growing number of our younger women are actually labouring under a Victorian-style malaise of social taboos and repressive feelings which prevent them from communicating effectively with health professionals and counsellors.

Over 66% of the 18-24 year olds interviewed said they would be too embarrassed to say the word ‘vagina’ to their GP, even if the Doctor was also a woman.

Nearly half of them (48%) said they were frightened by the thought of an ‘intimate’ examination while a similar number (44%) considered themselves ‘too embarrassed’ to discuss sexual health issues with a doctor.

Over half of the women (57%) said they would rather turn to google while fewer than one in five (17%) said they would consult their mothers for help.

The same number (17%) said they would actually seek medical advice as soon as they experienced a gynaecological or sexual health issue, which means a startling four out every five of the women interviewed would hold off for fear of embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Ovarian Cancer Action estimates that every two hours a woman dies from ovarian cancer somewhere in the UK.

While more likely in older women, ovarian cancer can occur in younger women too, it is the fifth most common cancer for women (after breast, lung, bowel and womb cancers) and around 7,000 women are diagnosed with the condition every year.

Around 10% of cases are traceable to an inherited genetic fault and can develop at any age.

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital to the odds of survival, which makes the reticence to discuss symptoms all the more dangerous.

One particularly worrying finding of the study was that well over a third of the respondents (37%) couldn't name any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer (persistent stomach pain, persistent bloating of the stomach, difficulty satisfying hunger, increased frequency of urination).

Of course aside from cancer, there are many other conditions of similar or lesser severity which women should be able to discuss openly and easily with their doctor.

Not all are life threatening by any means, but all of them can affect the quality of life and, of course, the ability to have children or enjoy a healthy sex life.

Just how we have arrived at a situation where our children are less able to discuss personal issues with their doctors than our grandmothers were, is a mystery.

But clearly we should all make the effort, particularly mothers with their daughters simply because they are the least likely to sound ‘creepy’ if they raise the subject (my daughter’s eyes virtually rolled out of her head when I asked her if she was comfortable using the word ‘vagina’).

After all the advances in the empowerment of women and the efforts to overcome the dangerously repressive social mores of the past, it would be nothing short of criminal to allow the next generation to suffer under the same weight of ignorance and false modesty.

Especially as it could kill some of them.



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