It’s no secret that a woman’s body undergoes immense changes over the course of a lifetime. So it begs to wonder why so many South Asian women, myself included, don’t really dedicate much concern to women’s health and the perpetual changes happening to our bodies.
So it begs to wonder why so many South Asian women, myself included, don’t really dedicate much concern to women’s health and the perpetual changes happening to our bodies.
Going to see a gynecologist for a general women’s wellness checkup was never really discussed between my mother and me as I grew up. I was always just told to go to my primary care physician for any health concerns, but to decline a pap smear if asked—because God forbid something should ever be put down there before marriage. And that’s exactly what I did, even after I became sexually active.
In fact, it wasn’t until four months ago – at the ripe age of 23 — that I really understood how pertinent it was that I go get checked because I had started working with an OB/GYN whose sole focus is women’s health. I didn’t ask my mom – I simply told her: “I’m starting medical school in the fall. As a future physician, I believe I owe it to myself as well as my future patients to make sure I am as healthy and well-informed about my body as possible.”
Of course, I was met with resistance, but I didn’t — I COULDN’T– budge. This was something I knew I had to do for myself and my future.
From what I’ve gathered over the years from friends, family, and other personal accounts from South Asian females, going to see a women’s health specialist is typically associated with sexual activity – a HUGE no-no for us. It baffled me that a woman couldn’t simply go see a women’s health provider to make sure everything is functioning normally. It is unfortunate how women’s health is dealt with in our culture due to its association with sexual activity.
Changes need to be made – and fast. Especially since many of us are sexually active prior to marriage.
The CDC states that over 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. A large portion of this population became diagnosed due to a lack of regular screening through an annual pap smear. The Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. During the Pap test, the doctor examines the vagina and the cervix, and collects a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it, which are then placed on a slide and sent to a laboratory to be sure that the cells are normal. Regular screening can easily help prevent the onset of cervical cancer or help to catch it in its early stages in order to treat the disease.
Encouraging South Asian women to take control of their health and be proactive about getting screened regularly is something that can benefit the South Asian female population as a whole.
As a general benefit, seeing a women’s health specialist for health checkups is a great idea. The female body is so intricate in the way it functions, from our hormonal cycle to childbearing. Seeing a physician that is well-versed in these complex functions can only provide benefits to young South Asian women who may not have a solid understanding of their health and the maintenance necessary to live a healthy lifestyle.
This stigma associated with women’s health in South Asian societies needs to be addressed and having a stronger community of South Asian female physicians from our generation is the first step to rectifying this issue. We need to be more proactive about teaching our daughters, nieces, friends, and granddaughters about the significance of maintaining good health — INCLUDING sexual health — and to be aware of specific health problems to which South Asian women may be prone. We, as young South Asian women, should be empowered to strive for good health, and our community should be right there to support us in doing so.
We, as young South Asian women, should be empowered to strive for good health, and our community should be right there to support us in doing so.