Vaginal discharge and a low libido among conditions women are embarrassed to discuss

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and incontinence also feature on top 10 health concerns list.

Women's embarrassment is holding them back from seeking help about common health conditions. (Getty Images)
Embarrassment is holding women back from seeking help about common health conditions. (Getty Images)

Embarrassment is holding women back from talking about certain health conditions, with just over one-fifth admitting to being too shy to seek medical help for various common concerns.

While we've been making strides in breaking down stigmas surrounding menopause and menstruation, it seems there are still other worries women are refusing to discuss.

Vaginal discharge for a start, with 58% of women admitting to being too embarrassed to broach the topic with their friends and family.

That's followed by 57% who don't feel comfortable discussing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the 56% who keep quiet about suffering from low libido.

Living with vaginal dryness is another subject many females are afraid to discuss amongst their nearest and dearest with over half (54%) claiming to shy away from raising the subject.

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Ditto childbirth and the potential problems surrounding it, with around a third (33%) of mums admitting to being too fearful to bring up tearing after birth, while 46% don't want to talk about incontinence.

A further fifth (21%) are too embarrassed to seek medical help for female health concerns in general.

The research, from Vitality, explored the reasons why women do not discuss these topics with their nearest and dearest, finding that 22% don’t want the attention to be focused on them, whilst a fifth (20%) are worried about being judged.

A further 12% don’t do so in fear of bringing down the mood of the group, preferring to keep it to themselves.

Experiencing a so-called 'embarrassing' health issue can leave some women feeling isolated, with 22% saying these issues have impacted their relationships.

Just over a fifth (21%) claim they've felt like they don't want to leave the house, while 13% say their health woe has impacted their ability to do their job.

Women are too embarrassed to discuss certain common health issues including incontinence. (Getty Images)
Women are too embarrassed to discuss certain common health issues including incontinence. (Getty Images)

When it comes to seeking help, almost a fifth (19%) of women admit they prefer to deal with female health issues themselves rather than seek advice from a medical professional, with a further 14% opting to search for their symptoms online.

Nearly one in ten (9%) say they worry they might be judged if they approach a doctor or other health advisor.

With that in mind, it isn't surprising that women are still avoiding vital health checks that could lead to crucial diagnoses.

Just over a fifth (21%) of women surveyed say they did not attend their last cervical smear screening and of those, 13% feared getting undressed in front of a doctor or nurse.

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But early diagnosis could have a vital impact on women's long term health.

“Although significant progress has been made in the area of women’s health and our attitudes towards it, taboos do still exist," advises Dr Kiran Johal, medical advisor at Vitality.

“Talking about a health concern has the potential to save lives, whether that’s encouraging someone to attend a screening appointment or finding support in others going through the same experience.

"Remember, keeping things to yourself can be isolating and the only way to break the stigma is by talking - the more open you are about your health, the faster you can access the support you need.”

Campaigning for change, 85% agree there is more that needs to be done to stop women’s health issues being perceived as taboos, and 79% believe women should be encouraged to talk more about female health issues. A further 78% believe there should be more public awareness campaigns on women’s health issues.

Thankfully there are some subjects that are not off the table, and a recent surge in the public conversation surrounding the menopause seems to have had an impact, with 78% of those women surveyed opening up about it.

There has also been some impact made in breaking down the period taboo, but despite this almost a quarter (23%) feel hesitant about talking about their own time of the month.

Watch: Majority of women are feeling more confident today than they did 10 years ago

Top 10 health concerns women won’t talk about with friends and family:

  1. Vaginal discharge (58%)

  2. Sexually transmitted disease (57%)

  3. Low libido (56%)

  4. Vaginal dryness (54%)

  5. Bacterial vaginosis (52%)

  6. Other sexual dysfunction (50%)

  7. Thrush (46%)

  8. Incontinence (46%)

  9. HPV positive results from a cervical smear test (35%)

  10. Vaginal tearing from childbirth (33%)

How to get past 'embarrassing' health fears

Dr Elise Dallas, Women's Health GP specialising in Menopause at The London General Practice has put together some practical tips for overcoming the embarrassment barrier with some common complaints.

Vaginal discharge and odour

Vaginal discharge is a natural occurrence that helps maintain vaginal health. However, changes in colour, consistency, or odour can indicate an underlying infection or imbalance.

"Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and thrush are non-sexually transmitted infections which can result from washing the vulva or douching the vagina," Dr Dallas explains.

"BV particularly has a fishy odour so can lead to over washing which just makes it worse."

Dr Dallas says many women may worry about being judged for their personal hygiene, particularly when there are ‘feminine hygiene products with perfume’.

"But vaginal discharge and odour concerns are common and often easily treatable," she continues. "Seeking medical advice early on can help you regain confidence and ensure optimal vaginal health.

"If you're worried about vaginal discharge or odour, note any changes and associated symptoms book with your GP to discuss your concerns. And remember to only wash your vulva with water and never douche the vagina – it is self-cleaning!"

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Lumps/sores in the vulva

Discovering lumps or sores in the vulva can be alarming and unsettling. However, women often feel embarrassed about discussing these symptoms, fearing a potential diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or other conditions.

"Early detection is key when it comes to vulvar health," Dr Dallas says. "Don't let embarrassment hold you back from seeking medical advice.

"Remember, our role is to provide professional care and guide you through the necessary steps for accurate diagnosis and treatment."

If you notice any unusual lumps, sores, or skin changes in the vulva area, Dr Dallas suggests you consult a GP.

"But before this - get a mirror and have a look at what your vulva looks like," she adds.

Low libido is another health condition women aren't willing to discuss. (Getty Images)
Low libido is another health condition women aren't willing to discuss. (Getty Images)

Low libido

Low libido or a decrease in sexual desire can be caused by various factors, including hormonal changes, stress, or relationship issues.

"Women often feel embarrassed discussing this intimate aspect of their lives, fearing judgment, inadequacy, or the impact it may have on their relationships," Dr Dallas explains.

"But your sexual wellbeing is an essential part of your overall health and happiness."

Dr Dallas recommends communicating with your partner about your concerns, as understanding and support are crucial.

"Seeking guidance from a sex therapist can help you explore the underlying causes and develop strategies to enhance your sexual satisfaction," she adds. "They can help you navigate the complexities of low libido and guide you towards solutions that work for you."