Study reveals the ‘most embarrassing public displays of womanhood’

'Public Displays of Womanhood' are leaving women feeling embarrassed. (Getty Images)
'Public Displays of Womanhood' are leaving women feeling embarrassed. (Getty Images)

Nine in 10 women say they have felt ‘embarrassed’ after experiencing a female health symptom in public.

While we've been making strides in breaking down stigmas surrounding menopause and menstruation, it seems there are still other health issues having an impact on women.

A study, of more than 4,000 women, found 89% have felt uncomfortable and self-conscious by the likes of hot flushes, heightened emotions, excessive sweating, severe period pain or leaks while around others.

Despite being all natural bodily functions, these 'Public Displays of Womanhood' have led to 12% of those who experience them cancelling social plans, while one in 20 say it causes them to avoid going out altogether.

The study, commissioned as part of the Bupa Wellbeing Index, also found two thirds have faced comments from others while battling their symptoms, leaving them feeling self-conscious, anxious and even ashamed.

Despite raised awareness campaigns in recent years, 57% of the those polled still feel women’s health remains a taboo topic, and almost a third (32%) feel generally uncomfortable when talking about the subject or symptoms they may be experiencing.

And two thirds think it is still seen as an embarrassment if you experience a women’s health symptom in public, leaving over half (53%) worried about suffering one in the future.

Woman suffering with period pain at work. (Getty Images)
Women's health symptoms are causing embarrassment. (Getty Images)

Commenting on the findings, Dr Samantha Wild, Bupa's clinical lead for women’s health says: "In many cases, Public Displays of Womanhood (PDWs) are normal bodily functions which can occur from time to time and are nothing to be embarrassed about.

"There is still a perceived stigma around women’s health, which is why women feel so ashamed when these things happen.

"But speaking about experiences, whether with friends, family or a partner, can help to break the taboo and normalise PDWs.

"However, when PDWs begin to impact day-to-day life, such as going to work, exercising or socialising, and lead to mental health concerns as many women in the study have said, then it’s important to speak to a doctor who will be able to look into whether these symptoms are normal or need further investigation and guide you through a treatment plan."

The study found of those who have experienced a women’s health symptom in public, the most common were excessive sweating (76% ), heightened emotions (69%) and hot flushes (68%), while 58% experienced period blood leaking to the point where it’s visible to others.

Others have suffered urinary incontinence (58%) and leaking breasts (34%), both of which are common during and after pregnancy.

Experiencing these health side effects left over a third (34%) forced to abandon what they were doing and go home early, while one in 10 had to rush off to buy new clothes.

It's little wonder, therefore, that a third are anxious about it happening again, with around one in 20 (6%) choosing to work from home more often to avoid being around others just in case.

Being honest about what is happening is something many women struggle with too, with the study revealing 42% feel uncomfortable talking to their male manager, while around a quarter (24%) feel uneasy explaining to their child. Even talking to their partners about women's health is awkward for around 12% of those surveyed.

Woman suffering from excessive sweating. (Getty Images)
Excessive sweating was the top 'Public Displays of Womanhood'. (Getty Images)

In a bid to get over this PDW embarrassment Bupa are trying to encourage more open discussions about women's health in a bid to tackle the taboos.

"These latest insights from the Bupa Wellbeing Index show how women’s health needs to be more part of the conversation," explains Carlos Jaureguizar, CEO for Bupa Global & UK.

"A lack of understanding leads to stigma, which makes people even more reluctant to talk about the day-to-day health concerns and experiences women face.

"Bupa’s vision is for a world where no woman is held back in society or the workplace due to health inequality and we are committed to giving employers, educators and healthcare practitioners the tools to achieve this.

"We’re starting with a pledge to our own people to create an environment where women feel comfortable speaking about their experiences, as well as offering our Period Plan to all our colleagues in the UK."

Top 10 most common 'Public Displays of Womanhood'

1. Sweating (76%)

2. Heightened emotions (69%)

3. Hot flushes (68%)

4. Severe pain – period or pelvic/abdominal) (67%)

5. Diarrhoea (62%)

6. Dizziness or fainting (62%)

7. Breakout of spots/acne (58%)

8. Period blood leaking/visible on clothes (58%)

9. Leaked urine (58%)

10. Vomiting (54%)

Additional reporting SWNS.

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