“So, this might be TMI, but…” is the standard disclaimer for a frank conversation a weird rash, a mole that might be a freckle, a lump that feels lumpier, or a tuft of hair in a place no woman wants to find hair. It goes without saying the ugly truth about a woman’s health issues usually flows as freely as Chardonnay on a girl’s night out when she’s with her friends, but many women are reluctant to raise their concerns when they’re face-to-face with an actual physician snapping on a pair of latex gloves. In a world that still largely regards “women’s health” as being synonymous with “period problems,” these candid conversations shared among girlfriends at brunch or waiting in line for the bathroom at a bar may seem like the stuff of a Redbox movie you regret renting, but they can actually play a significant role in women’s lives.
Outside one’s sacrosanct circle of girlfriends—the trusted ones who have held your hair back after too much tequila and hexed every employer and J. Crew bro who’s ever turned you down—talking about your health is a duty fraught with sweaty palms and an urge to flee. In the doctor’s exam room on that crinkly wax paper table cover wearing nothing more than a hospital gown and socks that don’t actually match in the light of day, every woman has experienced the same tense moment. After the doc scribbles something on your chart that you assume could only be, “Didn’t shave for this appointment,” the final click of a pen warns that it’s time for the question you’ve been dreading: “Have you had any problems lately?”
Initially, you think back to last week when you were in traffic and some jerk with more than five bumper stickers barged into your lane, prompting a Gone Girl-esque trance in which you imagined following him home and becoming his family’s nanny through a series of unlikely circumstances. Over time you’d strategically ruin his life little by little, removing the bumper stickers from his car one-by-one as his success and happiness go down the drain. You just want to confirm with a professional if that extent of hypothetical sociopathic revenge is an appropriate response to a reckless lane changer.
But then you remember how your period was doing weird things a few months ago. Or that headache last week that felt like electric eels were hammering your eyeballs from inside your brain. Or that day your nipple was super itchy. Or the diet you’ve been following lately that’s making you feel kind of woozy sometimes. Even with all these unresolved worries, our standard answer to the problem question is some version of, “Nooooope! Not that I can think of.”
For every one woman with no qualms about discussing everything from her labia to Lyme disease with her doctor, there are several more women who’d rather put their faith in Google and Dr. Oz rather than have an uncomfortable conversation with their physician. Every woman should strive to feel as comfortable with her doctor as her hair stylist or her attorney, but if you’re seeing same doctor who delivered you and diagnosed your chicken pox and for some reason is also the pastor at your church and your mechanic, it might feel a little weird talking with him or her about vaginal discharge. Your best friends may not be medical professionals, but as women we owe it to each other to be informed about what’s normal and what requires medical intervention ASAP and pass that information along the next time one of our former MySpace Top 8 ladies complain of a yeast infectionfluenza sinus strep throat pulled muscleitis.