Comment Writer Ffion Haf discusses the stigma surrounding people with vaginas, arguing that there is a need to start productive conversations surrounding vaginas and discharge
The lack of mainstream education on bodies with vaginas is becoming increasingly clear. As a consequence, negative connotations are created surrounding bodily anatomy, particularly vaginal anatomy. As nobody is taught about bodies with vaginas to an adequate extent, some individuals are being condemned for things they have no control over.
As a cis woman, I personally have no recollection of ever being taught about bodies with vaginas during my education. It was always something we were either expected to know or find out by ourselves. This creates an unhealthy relationship between women and their bodies, forming situations wherein women feel as though their bodies are so unnatural or disgusting. The health of biological females is so frequently overlooked or dismissed by individuals and organisations, that these bodies are inevitably stigmatised. More should be done to tackle this. Secondary education should place greater importance on the teaching of biological female health, implementing specialised lessons and workshops for everybody.
Not only is education on biological female health overlooked, but scientific research is also vastly lacking. An article by the Guardian states that ‘less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated solely to reproductive health, despite the fact that one in three women in the UK will suffer from a reproductive or gynaecological health problem.’ The needs of those with vaginas are being neglected considerably due to the fact that most of our understanding of the biologically female body comes from the perspective of cis men. In no situation can a cis man ever understand the true workings of the biologically female body when they are unable to experience it for themselves.
Due to the lack of education on the subject, cis men are so often uncomfortable discussing biologically female bodily functions, in particular the female reproductive system. According to a survey by UK gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal, ‘only one in five men feels confident enough to mention a change in their partner’s vagina, and more than half of them aren’t comfortable discussing gynaecological health at all.’ Furthermore, the survey notes that only half of men were able to correctly identify the vagina on a diagram. This is alarming for those with vaginas who are in a relationship with a man. The person with whom they are most intimate with may not feel wholly comfortable with female anatomy. Worse, they may be ignorant of it.
One wonders, then, whether given the opportunity, would cis men be willing to learn about bodies with vaginas? The best way to breach this knowledge gap is with openness and normalising the matter of conversation, making everyone comfortable in discussing women’s health.
In order to prevent internalised misogynistic attitudes towards bodies with vaginas, it is important to normalise conversations surrounding anatomy, in particular, vaginal discharge. Most people with vaginas experience this internalised misogyny at some point during their lives, feeling shameful talking about topics such as discharge, despite the function itself being entirely normal. Not only is this dangerous for the mental health of the individual, but a reluctance to talk about discharge can be perilous for one’s physical health. Changes in discharge can be an indicator of many different illnesses and diseases, therefore being in touch with and normalising our bodies is vital. Nobody should ever put their life at risk due to feeling ashamed of a completely natural occurrence.
A video by Alyssa Cochran-Caggiano on Tik Tok challenged stigma towards vaginal discharge by giving viewers a tour of her bleached underwear, explaining that it is often caused by discharge. Seeing women openly discussing discharge is incredibly refreshing; it reminds us that we are not alone. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Cochran-Caggiano states that she made the video with the hope of normalising discharge, ‘Bodies leak and smell weird and make noises and no one ever talks about it, so people think what their body is doing is abnormal and they feel embarrassed.’ Videos like this help start healthy discussions about biologically female health, demonstrating the natural bodily functions that happen every day for women.
From periods to menopause, the stigma surrounding the anatomical functions of people with vaginas causes suffering and needs to be addressed through open discussions and proper information. Those with vaginas need to be called upon to know their bodies, and cis men need to make more of an effort to make people with vaginas feel comfortable in themselves regarding bodily functions. Knowing our own bodies is not brave or audacious, it is normal, and until this is understood we cannot improve our health.
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