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We need to talk about female sexual health


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We could soon be seeing a 'Vagina Museum' in Camden Market, and it's already sparked a conversation about female anatomy.

Finally, at a time where the number of women seeking cervical screening tests has hit a 20-year low, it’s become apparent that our inability to discuss gynaecological anatomy is actually putting us in danger. Knowing our bodies, and being willing to discuss them openly could actually save lives. Enter, Florence Schechter and her Vagina Museum. 

Cervical cancer is one of the ten most preventable types of cancer in the UK. NHS data tells us that with the appropriate vaccines, regularly scheduled cervical screening, and knowledge of the earliest signs and symptoms, thousands of cases of cervical cancer could be avoided each year. 

Image Credit: LJNovaScotia on Pixabay

Despite this, however, the number of women who regularly attend cervical checks, or “smears”, has hit a 20-year low, and a study conducted by Eve Appeal found that less than a quarter of women surveyed said they felt confident that they were well informed about gynaecological health issues. With thousands of cervical cancer diagnoses still being recorded each year, it has never been more clear that, as a society, we need to talk about female sexual health.

One woman on a mission to do exactly that is science communicator Florence Schechter. Florence is the founder of the brand-new, first-of-its-kind Vagina Museum; a space entirely dedicated to the female anatomy. She is currently heading up a crowd-funding campaign in order to raise enough funds to house the museum permanently in London’s Camden Market.

What is a Vagina Museum? 

The museum, which aims to “erase the stigma around the body and gynaecological anatomy” could hopefully make a large dent in the general sense of embarrassment currently associated with female gynaecological health. If all goes to plan, the museum is set to feature an exhibit room featuring rotating displays, all of which will focus on the science, the art and the history of the gynaecological anatomy. 

The concept of a museum dedicated solely to vaginas might seem radical and slightly uncomfortable for many. After all, it is an entirely new concept, given that there is no other permanent fixture dedicated to vaginas anywhere in the world. However, getting our society talking about the subject itself is the first step towards a healthier society: one which is more knowledgable about female sexual health, and indeed a society more prepared to combat cervical and other gynaeological cancers. 

Why is it important to have more conversations about gynaecological health?

With more and more experts citing embarrassment as one of the main reasons for women avoiding cervical screening, normalising the discussion of gynaecological health and anatomy and bringing women’s bodies to the forefront of the conversation is now more important than ever. 

The conversation centred around vaginas and female sexual health has always been somewhat culturally taboo, and shockingly, the aforementioned survey conducted by Eve Appeal found that the stigma surrounding women’s anatomy is actually becoming a barrier for young women when it comes to discussing their health. A massive 65% of 16-25-year-olds admitted that they find it difficult to use the words vagina or vulva, and nearly 40% of that same group felt they had to use code names such as “lady parts” or “women’s bits” when discussing sexual health. 

It is for this exact reason that Schechter’s vagina museum is so important. Bringing gynaecological anatomy to the forefront of the conversation is vital if we are to combat cervical cancer. Schechter, however, is not the only one trying. 

Public Health England (PHE) are currently running a campaign designed to directly appeal to women in order to encourage them to attend their cervical screening tests. The campaign features TV, radio and online adverts, all of which encourage women to book for an appointment with their GP, and is actually the first ever cervical screening advertising campaign in England. PHE’s campaign is one of the first times that the conversation around smear tests has been brought to mainstream media since the death of celebrity Jade Goody, who publicly lost her battle with cervical cancer in 2009. 

Jade’s death was tragic and served as a stark reminder of the importance of regular cervical check-ups. The number of women who attended their screening shot up by over 400,000 in the UK after Jade’s death, yet, that number has slowly dwindled in the years since, due to lack of awareness, embarrassment and a de-emphasis on the conversation around the issue. It certainly should not take another tragedy to highlight the importance of cervical screening. It might, however, take a vagina museum, and an open, shameless and education conversation. 

More information about the Vagina Museum can be found on their website. Their crowdfunding campaign is currently live. 

If you are experiencing symptoms or are concerned about cervical cancer or other Gynaecological health issues, visit your local GP, or find out more on the NHS website. 

Lead Image Credit: LJNovaScotia on Pixabay 

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