Since I was 11, I have been bugged with UTIs. I’ve been the child who dreads being on a coach during any kind of trip without a bathroom or water in sight. When I was 13, I was on a tram in Amsterdam in the blazing heat, wanting to die because my insides were on fire. I’m lucky in that I’ve never had the symptoms others have had: stomach pains, bleeding, etc., I didn’t experience them. But still, if there were a degree in how to manage cystitis, I ought to have it.
Things are not nearly as bad as they once were, but still I get the odd bout of it. And when I got older I was shocked to find that many of my close female friends were also suffering from time to time with cystitis and other UTIs. I had thought I was on my own. Nobody ever talked about it. I heard something vague about it when I was around 10 or so, but nobody ever told me how common it was. I felt totally alone, which is why I didn’t talk about it and suffered in silence. Not even my family knew why I was so miserable on long car journeys as a child.
I never thought of this as a feminist issue until relatively recently, when I read a post about thrush, another thing we Don’t Talk About. I am lucky enough to have never suffered from thrush, but I know most women have, and yet again this is never talked about. Ok, so there are very occasional ads for thrush medication on TV, which, very much like tampon and sanitary towel adverts, are very clinical and avoid using any words to do with the actual condition – and as I say, the ads are very rarely shown anyway. Nobody ever gets a urine infection on TV. It’s even rarer than a woman having a period on TV. In fact, The Green Mile, in which Tom Hanks’s character is suffering from a UTI, is the only example I can think of.
From the things men have said to me, the misunderstandings between couples, and our media’s total avoidance of these issues, it’s clear that our society is still in the dark when it comes to women and our experience of our bodies. There’s a reason many men don’t really know what a period is, why plenty of young people of both sexes don’t know the difference between the urethra and the vagina, or how the vagina works. In a world where women’s experience was portrayed, explored and valued as much as the male experience, I believe the facilities would cater to women and so would doctors. I’ve been told by many female friends – as well as had the experience – of unsympathetic male doctors who say there’s really nothing they can do. We hear about erectile dysfunction and it’s appreciated that this causes distress to men, but doctors act as if these so-called ‘female problems’ are not debilitating and nothing to make a fuss about. And no, ‘drink cranberry juice’ isn’t good advice.
This post on the F word explores doctors’ reactions to her vulvar vestibilitis, which she is told is probably just a symptom of being overemotional, when a man would be very unlikely to be told the same thing if he complained of pain during intercourse. I strongly reccomend you read her post, because her story demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about. It’s time cystitis, thrush, bacterial vaginosis, vulvodynia, vulvar vestibilitis, endometriosis, dysmenorrhea and all the rest, started to be taken seriously. It’s time we started talking about them and, equally as important, making sure the next generation don’t grow up thinking they’re alone if they suffer from them.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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