Access to accurate health and relationship education is one of the most empowering ways to help you make decisions about your body. It’s likely you may have received some form of sex education in school but this isn’t compulsory and syllabuses aren’t standardized. This means that the menopause, complications with periods and the intricate anatomy of your body may have been left off. If this is ringing some bells then you’re not alone. A new study has found that nearly one in four people misidentified a vagina and not understanding your body can have serious implications when you go to the doctors with an intimate health issue.
A new survey, commissioned by INTIMINA and conducted by One Poll, spoke to 2,000 people who identified as female about their understanding of their bodies, their menstrual cycle and menopause and where they looked for knowledge. They found that one in four people misidentified the vagina. Knowing your body and what’s normal for you can be so helpful when speaking to partners and clinicians and this misunderstanding has very real implications. The study found that 52% of people think that the gaps in their knowledge about their bodies prevent them from advocating for themselves in the doctor’s office.
Over the last decade sex educators have developed tools online and through social media to teach people about their sexuality and body. However, when researchers asked who people blamed for the gaps in their knowledge 36% said teachers. This indicates that they felt the sex education they received while at school wasn’t thorough or accurate enough. 28% said they blamed their parents and 27% pointed the finger at government education standards. The three main areas that people said they wish they knew more about were what different reproductive organs do, menopause and perimenopause and when women are more fertile.
Speaking about the study Danela Žagar, INTIMINA’s Global Brand Manager said, “a woman’s reproductive system is one of the most complex systems in the body. It is crucial to take steps to protect it from infections and injury, and prevent any health problems, not only physical but also psychological.”
They say you fear what you don’t know and of the people that INTIMINA and One Poll spoke to, 57% said they thought they should know more about female anatomy than they do and 42% said they wish they had a better understanding. “The fact that nearly one in four women in the survey misidentified the vagina and 46% could not correctly identify the cervix shows we need to keep educating the public about how the reproductive system, its monthly processes and hormonal changes can impact a woman’s life,” said Žagar, “only by understanding how our bodies work, can we understand possible health changes and issues we could be experiencing.”
Your body changes over time, from puberty to menopause and beyond. 63% of people were able to correctly identify the menstrual cycle as “the monthly changes a woman’s body goes through in preparation for a possible pregnancy.” However, almost a quarter of people said it was “the process a woman’s body goes through to shed excess blood.” Other people responded that your monthly bleed “got rid of bacteria” or that it’s the “detoxification of [the] female body.” Misinformation about periods upholds the stigma and silence attached to menstruation.
The confusion associated with the female reproductive system also extended to menopause. Menopause is defined as the period when you’ve not had a monthly bleed consistently for 12 months. This doesn’t happen suddenly and the perimenopause can begin years before this as the body transitions into menopause. When asked what they thought the menopause was one in ten people said they thought it was simply something that happened when you entered your forties and 13% said they thought it was when you skipped your period.
Perimenopause and menopause can bring massive changes and while there was confusion surrounding it, 38% of people said they wanted to know more about perimenopause and menopause.
Not being able to advocate for yourself at the doctors because you feel like you don’t fully understand your body or the reproductive processes it goes through can leave you feeling extremely helpless. Žagar said, “the best recipe for becoming your advocate in a medical setting is to do your research and use that medical information for asking the right questions when visiting your doctor.” Knowing your own body and what’s normal for you can help you spot when something is wrong and give you the power to talk to others about it.