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Where is your cervix? Most women can’t point one out

One night on Labor and Delivery, I had a very concerned woman give me a confused look after a catheter to drain her urine was put in her bladder. When I asked what the problem was, she asked, “How is the baby going to fit out?” When I explained how the cervix dilates to let a baby through, she then responded, “No, no… I mean, how is the baby going to get past that catheter?”

You see, she was completely unaware that urine drains out of a hole called the urethra (that connects to the bladder where her catheter was) and that babies come out of the vaginal opening, which is what the uterus and cervix connect to. She had no idea of her own female anatomy.

The interesting thing? I’ve heard this so many times that by my estimation, 20-30 percent of American women think the exact same thing. Seems someone has actually studied this, and oh boy. We’ve got a lot of teaching to do.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the magazine Women’s Health did a survey of 7,500 women to assess exactly what they did and didn’t know about their lady parts. The results were pretty surprising:

  • 64 percent of women couldn’t pick out a picture of a cervix
  • 33 percent thought vaginas should not smell (a mild odor is completely normal)
  • A large amount could not find the urethra (where urine comes out)
  • 33 percent thought red wine was good for vaginal health (sadly, alcohol really isn’t)

This isn’t the only study of its kind. The journal Fertility and Sterility also showed that 40 percent of women don’t understand how ovulation works. This is super important information, not only for when you are trying not to get pregnant, but also for when you trying to conceive!

What concerns me as a doctor who takes care of women is that so many women have no idea how their female sexual organs work, and even more won’t discuss it with their doctors because they are embarrassed. School health classes often gloss over these facts (some schools don’t even teach sex ed!) and teenagers are left thinking this is because it is a taboo subject that shouldn’t be discussed.

Equally discouraging are the people who proclaim that words like “vagina” and “penis” are dirty, and teach their children euphemisms like “down there” and “pee pee,” basically telling kids they shouldn’t be talking about their own anatomy because the words are so dirty that they need to be replaced with something else. When a girl has a question about whether or not her vaginal odor is normal, she is much less inclined to ask if she’s been taught she shouldn’t say the word “vagina.”

The solution? Education, education, and normalization. Teach your kids the anatomic names of their bodies, and let them know they are nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t be afraid – this will not make them run out and have sex! If anything, the opposite often happens because they respect their bodies more.

Take charge of your own body and learn about it! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has lots of great patient education materials (especially under the “teens” section). If you aren’t sure, ask your doctor or midwife. I can tell you sometimes the most fun visits I have are with patients who start out with an “embarrassing” question. After telling a woman there really are no stupid questions, I hand her a mirror and teach her what her normal anatomy looks like. You can visibly see how much more empowered she feels about her body. Don’t we want that for ourselves and our girls in this country?

And don’t worry, that patient’s baby fit out (of her vagina, not her urethra) just fine!

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

Comments

  1. I became a lot less embarrassed about asking such questions after having a baby. Somehow being completely naked in front of a room full of strangers and squeezing an 8-pound baby out of your “lady parts” makes you less worried about what anyone thinks of your embarrassing questions. 😉 But I completely agree that the subject is often considered taboo (especially in the South!) and that education is the key. My husband and I decided to teach our children anatomically correct words, although my son has taken it upon himself to call his bottom his “button.” Haha!

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