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“Unnecessary panic” or “exaggeration” is what women hear in medical offices.
Women achieve great things, and we want them to be heard as much as possible. Therefore, and without any hesitation, Fiore supported the autumn edition of workshops concerning the intimate health of women, run by the Go Healthy Girl foundation and organised by Karolina Ochała-Sztyler amidst the difficulties of 2020. Today, in a much calmer atmosphere, one conducive to reviews and conclusions, we are speaking to Karolina about the project and plans for the future.
Why did you decide to engage in this type of social activity? Is it inspired by personal experience?
On my 30th birthday my gynaecologist called to inform me about the negative result of my cytology test. The diagnosis: cellular dysplasia (pre-cancer cervical lesions) due to HPV virus infection. Following additional tests I was referred for a conisation procedure for the removal of the infected cells, after which I had to wait for the histopathology results confirming that no cancer cells had developed in my cervix. Fortunately, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Sadly many women do not have such a possibility because, for example, they have not been vaccinated against HPV (the vaccine is still not reimbursed), they do not have regular smear tests for various reasons or they think that they are young and will not get cancer, but the HPV virus does not listen.
Soon after that episode I decided to run a social campaign involving free education for women on cancer prophylaxis, and that is how the Go Healthy Girl got started. Today we do not remind people just about tests, such as a Pap smear or breast ultrasound, which are clearly very important. Now we also (or rather, first and foremost!) offer sexual education, teach them how to take care of the pelvic floor muscles, and talk about good birth. We provide the opportunity to discuss health with specialists in a new way, where prophylaxis is presented as our safety vest. The foundation operates on the premise that the more we know about our bodies, the better we can protect them.
Is sexuality, seeing a gynaecologist or urogynaecological physiotherapist still a taboo subject in Poland? Is that why you decided to develop GHG?
With regard to intimate health prophylaxis, there is an enormous gap between Poland and other European countries. In many of them a consultation with a urogynaecological specialist before giving a birth is normal, while here, in some cities, such services are not available even within the private healthcare framework. Torn crotches, urinary incontinence or lack of pleasure from sex are only some of the consequences of a lack of peripartum education.
I also believe that all forms of social activity related to prophylaxis should be rewarded. You do more tests and pay for them yourself? In return for looking after your health, you get vaccines or other health-related services at a lower price. Today a patient who visits a doctor within the National Health Fund framework and requests a test, or simply wants to discuss their health, can be asked to leave the office. “Unnecessary panic” or “exaggeration” is what women hear in medical offices whenever they suggest an additional test, or try to discuss a novel treatment option.
The primary goal of Go Healthy Girl is to change women’s attitude to prophylaxis, and to break the taboo. To show that prophylaxis can be free, enjoyable and feminine. Most importantly, it should become an inherent element of our lives as women, and we should never dismiss it for fear of the specialist’s reaction. We have the right to prophylaxis, we have the right to enjoy intimate health!
What surprises girls the most? Is there a topic that turns out to be a “revelation” during the workshops?
Usually it is the fact that women may not feel like having sex and can say “no”, that this determines a healthy relationship. During lectures with a sexuologist about consent in sex, women of all ages open their eye wide with surprise, and listen with genuine interest and engagement about assertiveness in a relationship, opening to one’s own needs, or giving oneself the right to experience pleasure. In our lectures we remind them that our own pleasure from sex is as important as that of our partner. This may sound terrifying, but such an approach to sex in a relationship is not very common!
Another subject we disregard is urinary incontinence, although it affects one in three Polish women.
Yes, the question of pelvic floor muscles and their dysfunction, leading to urinary incontinence, for example, is neglected by doctors and the media. Increasingly young women suffer from problems related to the pelvic floor muscles as a result of too intensive exercise, “flat stomach syndrome”, using trampolines, or going to CrossFit training. Stress, insufficient physical activity, bad posture and addictions also contribute to poor condition of this group of muscles. We tend to forget that problems with pelvic floor muscles are not limited to incontinence, but include pain during sex or difficulty with getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to full term.
Mature women suffer from urinary incontinence due to a lack of proper care during pregnancy. Without proper preparation for birth, various dysfunctions of the pelvic floor may occur. Regrettably, the National Health Fund does not offer education in that respect, which translates into reduced life comfort for women who have given birth. None of us would like to leak urine at the age of thirty. Urogynaecological physiotherapists are our saviours, but few women have ever heard of them. Doctors avoid referrals, as they do not treat this profession seriously. Which is a great loss for women!
Which of this year’s workshops was the most exciting for you?
Meetings with specialists discussing sex-related issues, such as a sexuologist or urogynaecological physiotherapist, are always very popular (probably due to the number of excellent anecdotes and interesting questions). Personally, I enjoyed a lot the meeting with Ania Kotlińska, a midwife, about menstruation and the first period. The lecture “Can you love menstruation?” was introduced to the programme for teenagers as a result of last year’s experience, and the great need to talk about puberty and the first visit to a gynaecologist. We want to change the perception of the female body in that respect as well.
The goal of the campaign is to help teenagers understand and love the changes in their bodies. To help them choose the right hygiene products, explain what PMS is, and fight the myth that menstruation must be painful. We menstruate for most of our adult lives, so we should make this monthly event a time to listen to our organisms, to relax and take special care of our bodies. Let’s treat menstruation as an inseparable part of our functioning, and accept the associated changes that our bodies are undergoing. Wouldn’t that make our lives easier?
What about next year? Can we expect Go Healthy Girl 4.0? Has the experience with COVID-19 provided you with a new perspective on on-line education?
Yes, organising this year’s edition was particularly difficult. The regular introduction of safety zones and restrictions due to COVID-19 determined how we organised our meetings. However, both our partners and the Go Healthy team were flexible enough to cope with securing a safe space in our Pink Clinic. The women attending our lectures were very understanding, and waited patiently during the breaks to air the room, listening to the presentations despite the discomfort of wearing masks, etc.
As the organiser I highly value personal encounters with students, women who came to attend the lectures. These meetings offer emotions and show us what is missing in on-line communication. However, considering the uncertainty of what the new year will bring, we have several ideas for promoting intimate health on-line. As the Go Healthy Girl team, we will bravely enter the year 2021!
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