Today the Carousel’s Psychologist Jo Lamble opens a very frank conversation with Dr Alia Nasser about the parts of a woman’s anatomy which get spoken about often in terms of a ‘pet name’. And – if we can’t bring ourselves to say the words ‘vagina’ and ‘labia’, then how are we to fully understand their functions, know what they look like and feel comfortable discussing them?
As a medical professional, Dr Nasser explains luckily, in this internet age, younger women feel less hesitant discussing their own bodies while older women tend to feel less self-conscious as time goes on. “In my medical clinic, no topic is off limits so my patients feel that they are comfortable talking about anything.”
And, while most men don’t have any hesitation in discussing their own anatomy, you may be surprised about what some males have to say about their partners’ decisions to have Labiaplasty performed (cosmetic surgery on the labia). Alia explains that fortunately she does have a lot of patients whose male partners are supportive, however, it’s not uncommon for a patient to consult with her due to having a normal discharge which a male partner has questioned as “Do you have an infection or are you dirty?” As a doctor, she points out “We have to address these issues”.
So, how can we help dispel some of the myths and taboos? Well, Jo suggests we keep the conversation open with our daughters, sons, partners and friends so that it is normalised.
That’s exactly what we’re doing here at The Carousel.
To follow this fascinating conversation just hit play – and then let us know your opinion below.
Jo Lamble: I’m Jo Lamble and I’m here with Dr Alia Nasser and today we are going to be talking about why are we so hesitant to understand our bodies. According to a recent survey 65% of British young women, won’t use the word ‘vagina’. Now what can we, as women, do to break down these taboos? Alia, as a medical professional how do you find it for people to be hesitant about discussing the topic and bringing up the word vagina in your office, or is it different when they are speaking to a doctor?
Dr Alia Nasser: In my medical clinic, no topic is off limits so my patients feel that they are comfortable talking about anything. It is a little difficult for the younger girls, some older women as well because they have never talked about it before when they have a problem to come and talk about it. When they make an appointment they wouldn’t say what their appointment is for and when they come in they have this introduction about how this is a sensitive things and I’m embarrassed and things like that. So it can be a little embarrassing for people to talk about but people are becoming more and more comfortable especially young girls who are exposed to so many images on the internet and they are getting a lot of education at school and they are more comfortable with using the word ‘vagina’ and they’re looking at themselves more as well so, it’s becoming more popular and more comfortable for people to talk about it. Of course because they are coming to a doctor they’ve already made the choice and the step to come in to talk about it so they have overcome that initial hurdle.
Jo Lamble: mmm, they might nervous at first but I’m sure you put them at ease.
Dr Alia Nasser: yeah, that’s right because we’re professional and they feel that they can tell me anything.
Jo Lamble: You’ve seen it all
Dr Alia Nasser: Yeah that’s right. I mean, so you’re a psychologist so why do you think this is a taboo topic?
Jo Lamble: It’s strange isn’t it? Men don’t seem to have the same problem talking about their body parts! Often in a really light-hearted way, with each other and walk around the house, wooo! So, I don’t know why I think generally women have been more self-conscious and more self-critical and that’s stopped it. I think what really helps is pregnancy. I think when you’re pregnant it’s much easier to talk about your vagina and pelvic floors when there’s a baby on the way or just afterwards because you’re sort of proud of what your body is doing. So I think that really helps but again every conversation we can have is going to help break down those taboos and make it easier to talk about such a natural subject.
Dr Alia Nasser: That’s right I agree with that
Jo Lamble: Alia there seems to be an increase in the number of Labiaplasties that are being done – that’s cosmetic surgery on the labia. Why is that?
Dr Alia Nasser: Because, again as I said before these girls are being exposed more to these topics and they feel comfortable coming and talking about it. These girls – and women as well of course, I’m seeing older women for the same problem – have had this problem for a long time and it does interfere with their daily activities. They don’t wear tight pants, some of them don’t go to the beach and wear a swimming costume…
Jo Lamble: Because they feel their labia is too large?
Dr Alia Nasser: ..yes that’s right, so you can see it, it’s visible. So they are quite embarrassed about their body and it does interfere with sexual intercourse as well cause the labia gets stuck and we see it in older women too, they have always had the problem, they have never spoken about it, (for them) it was natural to look different. But then as they go through their hormonal changes, menopause, with the hormone levels dropping there’s dryness, more atrophy and then it becomes quite uncomfortable for them. So then they come in and want to do something about it.
Jo Lamble: Can you see when someone is maybe trying to be a bit perfectionistic or they may have body dysmorphia and you think hey this is perfectly in the normal range and would you then be reluctant to advise them to get some surgery?
Dr Alia Nasser: Absolutely. Yeah that’s right, so I do when I see patients assess them to see whether they need the surgery or not and whether it’s a bit of dysmorphic syndrome and if I’m not comfortable doing it I wouldn’t do it.
Jo Lamble: And that’s great to know isn’t it because as you say young people are seeing so many images out there so then they can think OK, mine doesn’t look exactly like that so I need to do something, but we are all different.
Dr Alia Nasser: yeah that’s right because even then when they are doing the surgery they are still not going to be happy and there’s going to be something else they will complain about so it’s better not to do it, to start with.
Dr Alia Nasser: Sometimes it’s often the male partner of the girl or the woman feel uneasy about herself. I recently had an older woman who said her partner said she had an ugly vagina so she wanted to come in for surgery and again last week I had a girl who the boyfriend said she had “side curtains” and again she wanted to have surgery. So the men do play an important part in this topic as well you know a woman who has discharge they’ll say “what’s this do you have an infection or are you dirty?”, or they make comments about her hygiene as well. So we have to again address these issues. I mean in your opinion, women are often embarrassed talking about these things or perceive that other people might think it’s not appropriate to say the word ‘vagina’. How do you approach that?
Jo Lamble: I think we all individually have to take responsibility, we need to talk about it. Let’s start with our daughters. If we can be really open with them and if they can hear us talking about this, if they can hear using the word ‘vagina’, rather than keeping the nicknames going when they are very young. Because the trouble is, if you don’t use the words ‘vagina’ and ‘labia’ as well as ‘penis’ and ‘testicles’ then you might unknowingly be teaching them that it’s inappropriate to talk that way “that’s rude, don’t do it.” So, the more relaxed we are, then the more relaxed they will become and again we will have this generational change. And as you say about the men I think the men, we have to teach our sons about how to be comfortable with this not to be repulsed by ads that come on about menstruation or tampons, just to make it part of life, “hey this is really natural”. Talk to our male partners and be quite open and not ashamed because if they see our shame they learn that this is something we keep very quiet. In defence of the men, yes there are some men who shame but I think there are plenty more men that say “Hey! You are gorgeous, you are fabulous, stop trying to be so self-critical”. They are just thinking, “Yay, naked woman!” (laughs).
Dr Alia Nasser: Yeah, I agree with that. I get a lot of husbands that come with the women who want labiaplasty and the first thing the husband says is, “I didn’t bring her here, I didn’t tell her to do this, I’m happy with what she looks like, it’s her decision and that’s what she wants”. So, a lot of them are supportive
Jo Lamble: and defending
Dr Alia Nasser: defending the fact that they don’t see a problem.
Jo Lamble: Thanks Alia,
Dr Alia Nasser: Thank you.
Jo Lamble: So hopefully we’ve helped dispel some of those myths about talking about one of the most natural things in the world and that’s woman’s bodies.
And for more tips just head to thecarousel.com, we’ll see you next time.
And for practical and straightforward information on personal hygiene click here.
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