Why Parents Not Talking to Their Daughters about Vaginas Has Deadly Consequences

Cervical cancer cells
Close up of cancer cells in the cervix, taken by the American Cancer Society. In the U.K., 26 percent of young women admit they do not feel comfortable talking to a doctor about their vagina. American Cancer Society/Getty

Nine out of 10 young women in the U.K. said neither of their parents ever discussed vaginas with them.

According to research, mothers and fathers across the country are avoiding talking about gynecological health and the female anatomy with their children.

The results pointed towards an attitude among young women that vaginas are not to be talked about, and that the idea of getting on the doctor's table for an examination is out of the question to them.

Research showed that nine in 10 (93 percent) women said their parents never discussed gynecological health issues with them when they were younger and 84 percent said their parents never talked about the female sexual anatomy.

One in seven mothers said they do not feel it is their role or duty to educate their daughters about gynecological health, with the youngest generation being the most reticent—just over a quarter (27 percent) told the study it was not their role to educate their daughters.

The Eve Appeal, a gynecological cancer research charity in Britain, said the results of their study were "staggering" and more needs to be done to tackle the silence surrounding these cancers—cancers that kill 21 women in the U.K. every day.

The charity said there is a "dangerous trend" among young women, with a third saying they would not feel comfortable talking to their mother about gynecological issues. This attitude even extends to the doctor's surgery, with 26 percent admitting they would not feel comfortable talking to a doctor about their vagina, and 31 percent saying they would not feel comfortable being examined.

TV presenter Cherry Healey, author of Letters to my Fanny and an Eve ambassador, tells Newsweek: "As a mum of two, I think it's essential that mothers help their daughters decipher what it means to be a woman nowadays.

"Many girls learn to feel ashamed of their vaginas, breasts and genitalia and, as a result, know very little about their anatomy. And if we don't know our vagina from our vulva and what's normal and not for us, then it will be much harder to spot the potential signs of gynecological cancer.

"As a woman and a mother, I feel we need to be as open and honest with each other about, and with our daughters, about our bodies as we can: understand our bodies, talk about sexual, reproductive and gynecological health, to gradually break down the myths and taboos that still exist around the female anatomy.

"My hope is that women will come to know their bodies better than a black cab driver knows The Knowledge."

Gynecological cancers are the second biggest cancer killer among women. Rates of young women being diagnosed with cervical cancer—the biggest cancer killer in women under 35—have increased by 20 percent since 2008.

Athena Lamnisos, chief executive of The Eve Appeal, says: "The lack of conversations around how the female anatomy works is extremely worrying. If daughters don't feel comfortable talking to their parents, or to their doctor, then it's not surprising that we see a huge lack of understanding in this area. Body knowledge is vital from the time young girls begin to experience puberty, to their first sexual experience, right through to motherhood and eventually the menopause.

"Without basic knowledge about the female body or conversations around how the female anatomy works, how can we expect women to know what to look out for in terms of unexpected changes or to be aware of when a common symptom might indicate a gynecological cancer? If we want to save lives, we need to see women being diagnosed earlier, when chances of successful treatment is higher."