How Intimate should ‘Intimate’ be?11:07:00 am
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” - Nathaniel Branden
Awareness – ‘having knowledge of’. True, you need to know enough about something before you start to do something about it.
But consider this – You are not in the least bit aware of the strange things that are happening to your body right now. You are scared, and you’re not sure how to seek comfort. You are even embarrassed, since ‘good girls’ don’t talk about what happens ‘down there’. You’re a woman; shut up and deal with it.
And there ends the first step towards change. Change towards a healthy, confident and self respecting life.
Is this what protecting the privacy of women’s intimate health is supposed to do? Submerge them under the dark sea of ‘embarrassment’? Of course, I don’t think it is necessary to announce your period from the rooftops but I do consider it vital to have an open discussion of these things, especially when the health of half the population is at stake. In my opinion, women’s intimate health issues need to be given priority at the governing levels and at all institutions, and we desperately need to get rid of myths of the kind that regard menstruation as dirty or impure.
Women’s intimate health could cover a variety of topics: from the onset of puberty to birth control and reproductive health all the way to menopause. At every step of the way, a woman is haunted by lack of knowledge, support and the tools required to take control of her own body.
A number of studies, conducted by UNICEF, WHO and the Indian government have shown the lack of toilets to be the main reason for girls dropping out of school. Those who do stay back cut classes for about a week every month, leading to lower academic performance.
Obviously, there are people who think talking about girls’ having periods in public is way too blasphemous, so then talking about building them functioning toilets? Shush, shush.
These people need to be informed that periods aren’t exactly a curse sent from above. It is a normal part of a woman’s reproductive life and something that just needs extra care.
Now, girls tend to run to their mothers/other females for advice or support regarding intimate issues. This doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as regressive and there are a number of reasons this works:
a. Children are generally closer to their Moms
b. This is 100% a female experience
c. Talking to other men about personal matters might open up doors to potentially dangerous situations
Check out this excerpt from UNICEF’s
statistics about HIV awareness among males and females in the age group 15-19: India
See the figures for females? Nearly half of that of males. From the looks of it, this intimacy thing isn’t helping our daughters.
Then we have the whole saga of birth control and antenatal/postnatal care. This, at least, gets a lot of press and there is much more awareness now and it is not as much a taboo topic today as in the past. One reason could be because two lives are involved – the mother’s and the child’s. Somehow in our country, people seem more comfortable discussing birth and pregnancy than menstrual or vaginal care. Maybe this has something to do with how Indians think of the ‘Mother’ as a goddess and the ‘Woman’ as dirt. Double standards, anyone??
Of all issues, I think menopause is the one that gets the least attention, partly because the women involved, the 40-50 age group, are the most reluctant to discuss their intimate matters. Menopausal women go through a lot of uncomfortable changes and they need all the support and care they can get from their husbands, children and others. But how will the family even know that the woman in their life is suffering if she herself is too embarrassed to talk about it?
So I iterate: while I do not think the whole extended family needs to sit at the table brainstorming ways to ease their teenager’s painful periods, she needs to know what is normal and what is not, and whom to turn to in the latter case. She needs to know that her body is a most wonderful thing and everything it does has a rhyme and reason and nothing about it needs to evoke shame or embarrassment.