14 Jul Spread Your Knees: Learning to Advocate for your Intimate Health
Author: Erin Jackson, JD, MA
There are two floral potholders on metal stirrups, adding to the lunacy of the situation. Lying there in a paper gown that makes a crunching sound as it collapses into the paper rolled over the table, I reluctantly slide towards my doctor, who’s gesturing for me to come closer. I’m here for myself, for my intimate health. So I gingerly extend each foot to a stirrup, resting them on the potholders. Peering over my knees, I notice that I didn’t even match my socks this morning, and then my doctor’s head appears between the potholders. She grabs her light, moves its glare between the potholders, and gently taps my knees. “Just relax your knees now.”
Relax doesn’t belong in this situation or room or physician’s vocabulary. I’ve been taught, like a proper lady, to keep my knees together. I’ve certainly not been told that it’s okay to spread my knees on demand, so long as my host provides cushioned potholder footrests. The experience is unnatural and uncomfortable.
And here, I witness the head-on collision of two of my dearly-held values: modesty, meet intimate health.
After I’ve been poked and prodded, she gently taps on my knees again and says, “all done!” – and in a tone that suggests the previous moments just flew by. They did not. But this is what I do, what all women do, each year to protect their pelvic and intimate health. I’ve worked hard to push away feelings of embarrassment or discomfort during these exams, and I think that’s imperative for us women whose job it is to guard and advocate for our wellness (PS: that’s all of us).
Pelvic and intimate health issues affect vast numbers of women, and many of them battle with undiagnosed, confusing, and painful symptoms each day. Innately female experiences like postnatal prolapse, painful periods, and sexual pain are often kept quiet. Women dutifully endure them, hoping that one day their doctors will spontaneously notice, diagnose, and cure them, or that the symptoms will simply subside. Too often, they don’t, and those women suffer silently.
It’s due time for women to step up and serve as their own best health care advocates. Grab a mirror, and get familiar with what your doctor is inspecting during your annual intimate health exam. Write down your questions in advance so you don’t lose your nerve when face-to-face with your doctor. Use trustworthy resources like B-wom, period-trackers, and pelvic physical therapy to familiarize yourself with your pelvic and intimate health and to develop an awareness of your pelvic rhythms and routines.
I don’t blush anymore when my doctor asks intimate questions about my pelvic health. Rather than feeling like the subject of an inspection, I have intentionally shifted my perception of my doctor from scary-person-with-speculum to wellness-partner-with-medical-degree. My doctor is an expert in pelvic and intimate health who can help me understand its nuances, and who can soothe my concerns. And on the 364 days each year that I’m not receiving my annual exam, I’m my pelvic health expert. And I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it.