Please Don't Apologise For Having A Vagina
Last week I had a fabulous day teaching at a Women’s Health workshop for registrars training to be specialist GPs. I love this part time job. Mentoring and encouraging the next generation of rural GPs is such a joy. I was teaching on subjects I am passionate about, including breastfeeding, so this was a particularly exciting workshop for me.
One comment made that day really stuck with me.
There was nodding and murmurings of agreement around my table of doctors.
I thought, Yes – this happens all the time.
And it shouldn’t happen. So, I am doing what I do when I feel strongly about something. I am writing a blog post about it.
The speaker, who is a fabulous GP, said that her female patients were always apologising if they needed to be examined ‘down there.’
She’s right, it happens all the time.
I’m so sorry you have to do my pap test.
I’m sorry you have to do this, you must hate it.
I’m sorry, I haven’t had time to wax.
I’m sorry, this must be gross for you.
I’m sorry to ask you to do this.
Interestingly, as we discussed this at the workshop, an important comparison was raised. Men never seem to feel the need to apologise for this. It is almost always women.
Why is this?
How is it that women with their amazing bodies that can literally bring new life into the world feel the need to apologise for this part of themselves? How have we as a society managed to convince women that their bodies are gross, embarrassing and in need of expensive and time-consuming maintenance before they can be seen by a doctor?
Let me tell you what I’m really thinking as a GP when I need to do a gynaecology exam.
I can honestly say I do not notice if you have waxed, shaved, bejazzled, pierced or stayed all natural. I have seen it all, and I don’t notice. You make whatever choice you like for yourself and what feels comfortable for you – you never need to ‘groom’ for a GP appointment.
You also never need to apologise for your weight. Or if you are wearing your daggy knickers.
Nothing embarrasses me. I mean it – nothing. If there is something you are worried about you really can ask me anything.
Women’s bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. If you have ever worried that your labia look abnormal, you can ask a GP about this. If you haven’t already discovered the Labia Library then I highly recommend you check out what ‘normal’ really is. I wish all teenage girls knew about this when going through the agonies of puberty.
All women have vaginal discharge. It is normal, and will vary depending on age, menstrual cycles and contraceptive use. It is not gross, it is a normal and healthy function of your body. I am completely used to seeing this in examinations. If it changes or becomes uncomfortable, then we can easily arrange tests and check for infection. You never need to apologise for this part of your body. Please don’t use soap, douches or feminine washes to try and eliminate normal discharge – they can upset your natural flora and cause infections.
It's okay if you have your period. Obviously, if you are uncomfortable with being examined or it is for non-urgent screening then we can reschedule. However, if you have something you are worried about and still have some bleeding, this does not bother me in the slightest.
When I need to do an examination, I am worried about making the right diagnosis, ordering the right tests and making sure you feel comfortable and safe. I am not judging your body. I will not remember what your vulva or anything else looked like afterwards. For me, it is about as embarrassing as needing to look at your elbow.
You have the right to feel safe.
You have the right to give and withdraw your consent.
You have the right to say no to anything you are uncomfortable with.
One thing you do not need to do is say sorry. You never need to apologise for being a woman and having a vagina.
Now, how about we all try and teach this to our daughters.