I asked my friends questions about vaginas and realized people have no clue what goes on down there


IRL  • 

I asked my friends questions about vaginas and realized people have no clue what goes on down there

Jealous of the girl who doesn’t associate periods with bleeding

At 24, I was diagnosed with myofibroblastic tumors, a rare form of womb cancer. I suffered from bad periods with heavy bleeding during and in between them for two years while the doctors didn't take my pain seriously. I tried treatment for four months until I finally had a total hysterectomy.

You know where your vagina is, right? And are probably 95% certain you know what your vulva looks like (with that extra 5% probably being out of reach and you’re not about to do the whole ‘looking at it’ in a mirror’ thing). You’re also must be pretty confident the men around you know what a vulva looks like too, you know, with them having a better view of it and all.

Most of them do, but research found they don’t know much past the outside, with 50% of men not being able to identify a vagina on a diagram. 17% of men also said they didn’t feel they needed to know about gynecological health as it is just a women’s issue, but let’s be frank… straight men are very likely to be the first to find a problem with their girlfriend’s vagina.

Surprised at the lack of knowledge, I put together some questions to form a Vagina Quiz for Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month and put my friends to the test. I asked 10 girls and 10 guys questions about women’s health and gynecological cancer. And most of them didn’t have a clue. Here’s what happened:

Draw a labeled diagram of the of the female reproductive system

Fact: no one knows how to spell fallopian tubes (is it a ph or an f?). Nearly all of the guys tried to draw on the vulva, or at the very least the clitoris, I think they may have been trying to prove they know where it is.

'I can't spell the words but I've drawn something'

One guy hit it right on the spot with “women are so complex." True.

'When you see what I've drawn you'll think I've never seen one'

Scores: Girls: 5, guys: 3

What is a period and why does it happen?

“I don’t know why it happens. I guess to just clear out the crap right?"

Just as many of the guys got this question right as girls, go team boys! But SOMEHOW three girls didn’t know what a period was – one didn’t even mention bleeding at all, she must be lucky.

A lot of people talked about ovulation and an egg being released and didn’t talk about the period in itself.

One guy summed it up pretty nicely: “You release an egg, I don’t even know if you release an egg. Stuff bleeds because stuff gets released. That’s all I got mate, I should have listened in science more.”

Illustration by Daisy Bernard

Another gets bonus points from me for feeling our pain: “Bleeding for like 5 days, some people bleed for 3 days and some two weeks. I would be pissed off if I bled for two weeks!"

Welcome to our world.

Scores: Girls: 7, guys: 7

Answer: A period is when the lining of the womb, the endometrium, falls away and is excreted through the vagina. This is caused by a reduction in estrogen as part of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. It lasts between 2-7 (average of 5) days. This allows the womb to grow a fresh endometrial lining each month to be in the best shape for receiving a fertilized egg and developing an embryo.

What does PMS stand for and what are the signs and symptoms?

Is it pre or post menstrual? That is the question. “Not a clue,” said one of the guys.

Only three girls could guess the symptoms – their partners must have it good, because heck I know what PMS is like!

Illustration by Daisy Bernard

One guy asked if it was “peeing yourself?” while another got it mixed up with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“PMS is actually post traumatic stress too, so maybe there are two meanings. One when you are on your rag.” Although he has the “wanting cookie dough” symptoms pretty spot on, so I’ll give him that.

Scores: Girls: 3, guys: 2

Answer: PMS stands for Premenstrual syndrome/stress/tension (PMT). The signs and symptoms are: Acne, swollen or tender breasts, feeling tired, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea, headache or backache, appetite changes and food cravings, joint pain, trouble concentrating, tension, irritability, mood swings, or crying spells, anxiety or depression.

How many gynecological cancers are there and can you name them?

No one knew all of the five gynecological cancers. Awareness was really high of ovarian and cervical cancer, but no one knew of vulval cancer at all.

“Ovarian, fallopian tubes. I’m guessing lots, it’s a pretty complicated area. So I’m guessing 20 or more, I just can’t name them.”

The fallopian tubes were causing people trouble again with six people thinking you can get fallopian tube cancer. We had a few good guesses, though.

“Is polycystic ovaries a cancer? I think that it is because it’s a cell multiplying that should be there.” No, but I appreciate the logic.

“Would it still class as skin cancer if it’s on the labia? I’m going to put skin cancer then because you can get it on the outside, which is classed as a skin but still counts. Let’s go with clitoral cancer too, because ya know, why not, that sounds like a very valid thing.”

Scores: Girls: 0, guys: 0

Answer: There are five gynecological cancers: Ovarian, Endometrial, Cervical, Vaginal and Vulval.

What do you think is the most common gynecological cancer?

13 people thought it was cervical due to the smear test being widely available. “I’ll say cervical cancer because they do smear tests for it. It’s a well-known test.”

There was some confusion over what constituted a gynecologic cancer with some participants thinking all predominantly female cancers are included. “If breast cancer is included, I’d say breast.”

Scores: Girls: 3, guys: 1

Answer: Endometrial (also known as uterine or womb).

How many women die each year worldwide from a gynecologic cancer?

About half guessed this question correctly. Nearly all participants chose a large number between 100,000 – 1 million because they get it, it’s a big problem.

Scores: Girls: 5, guys: 4

Answer: 500,000.

What is a PAP smear test and who are they for?

Apparently smears aren’t that well known as only half of the participants knew what it was, including only six of the girls. Two people thought a smear was a fertility test. “A smear is for older women, to detect if your eggs are still being released.”

To be fair, almost everyone knew a smear was a swab test to look for cancer, they just didn’t know what type of cancer or where the swab is used. “To pick up if you have cancer from your vagina juice.”

I’d also like to mention one of the guys for this answer: “It’s a song by Crystal Castles.”

Scores: Girls: 6, guys: 4

Answer: A PAP smear is a test for cervical cancer where a swab is taken from the cervix to look for abnormal (pre-cancerous or cancerous) cells. It is for all individuals with female reproductive organs over the age of 25.

What is endometrial cancer?

You'd think all my friends would know this as it's the cancer I had, but nope. Some people guessed it right with this fabulous logic: “I reckon cancer of the womb. Because 'endo' means end, end of the line. So end of the fallopian tubes is your womb."

A lot of people starting talking about endometriosis, and knew that was a problem within the womb lining, but didn’t make the connection that endometrial cancer was therefore cancer of womb, although one girl did get the wrong end of the stick on both counts: “I mean I know what 'endo'… is, when you get cysts on your ovaries, endometrios or something. So a cancer in that area… but that would be ovarian cancer."

Scores: Girls: 4, guys: 4

Answer: Cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the womb), also called womb or uterine cancer.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

3/4s of the girls got this right and a lot of people knew abnormal bleeding was a symptom.

One guy said: “I’m going to say, maybe like extra bleeding during your period. More drastic periods basically, and discomfort and strange things coming out at various times. When you poke things in there, sometimes you bleed.”

A fair few also managed to work out that sex might be an issue. “Painful intercourse, I know you aren’t shoving it into the cervix, but it’s still going to get touched,” said one of the guys.


Scores: Girls: 7, guys: 5

Answer: Unusual bleeding (between periods or after menopause), bleeding after sex, unpleasant smelling discharge, pain and discomfort during sex.

What is an oophorectomy?

None of the participants had heard of an oophorectomy but worked out what it was from their knowledge of a hysterectomy and the ‘oo’ at the beginning.

One guy was so close: “Well I’m guessing if a hysterectomy is when you take your uterus out, then a oophorectomy is when you take something out. But I don’t know what you’re taking out. So I’m going to guess when they just remove the eggs.”

One girl managed to guess this without remembering what the ovaries are called which is pretty impressive: “Removal of the ‘oo…’ uh, oh my god. I’ve forgotten what they are called. The bits that the eggs are in.”

A few people thought it was when eggs are removed for fertility treatment, or like, when you have your tubes tied for the opposite reason.

“It could be something like a vasectomy, when you have something clipped, or stopped,” said one of the girls.

Overall scores: Girls: 7, guys: 5

Answer: A procedure whereby the ovaries are removed.

Gynecological cancers are responsible for 19% of cancer diagnoses worldwide and kill half a million women a year.

Charities like GRACE, The Eve Appeal, and the Foundation for Women’s Cancer are driving research into prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of gynecological cancers to ensure that more women continue to survive these horrible diseases.

This September make sure you are aware of the five gynecological cancers and if you spot anything abnormal with your gynecological health, go and see your doctor immediately.