Sexual and reproductive health
15th June 2018
Last week, Public Health England (PHE) published their first ever report on reproductive health. This is a great, and important, first step towards putting reproductive health on the public health agenda. PHE exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.
Shining a light on women’s experiences
PHE’s research showed that a total of 80% of women experienced unwanted reproductive health symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding, severe menopausal symptoms or postnatal symptoms. Only around half of women with symptoms sought help for them. Women want their reproductive health concerns to be normalised so they can be discussed openly and self-managed where possible.
At Adia, we are all too familiar with the stigma and shame felt by women experiencing reproductive health challenges. We must break these taboos, and enable women to seek the support they need to feel confident and informed.
Moving beyond a narrow definition of reproductive health
So how does PHE define reproductive health? “A state of physical, mental, and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. It addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life and implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.”
This is crucially important. We can no longer view reproductive health as purely a physical health issue. We must begin to understand the complex inter-dependencies and relationships between physical, mental and social well-being. Our reproductive health is central to, and influenced by, our broader health. This is core to our approach at Adia.
The report sets out how our approach to reproductive health must include positive choices and control – not just the absence of disease or poor outcomes.
We believe that positive choices start with knowledge, proactivity and a plan. We cannot just intervene when women experience problems, we must empower women to understand how they can improve their reproductive health. We are excited to be building a solution at Adia that does just that – built by, and based on the experiences of, women.
Do you have kids? Oh do you not want them? You’re leaving it a bit late aren’t you? Would be nice for [insert name] to have a sibling, no?
Do any of these sound familiar?
Women we’ve spoken to have often had to field these questions. Whether it’s at the school reunion or in the workplace. Small talk can often be quite painful, and most of the time the intentions behind these questions are well meaning. With the person in question searching for common ground and a way to strike up conversation.
Behind closed doors
But reproduction isn’t small talk. You never know what is happening behind closed doors. Maybe that woman you’ve just asked whether they want children has just gone through her third round of IVF unsuccessfully. Maybe she’s just had a miscarriage. Or has one child already but is now struggling with secondary infertility.
Or maybe she’s decided that she doesn’t want children. Whatever the circumstances, women should not feel they have to explain their personal circumstances or decisions.
But is this increasing the taboo?
You could argue, that by not talking about these topics we are just simply increasing the taboo. We are not. At Adia, we are big advocates of having honest and open conversations. These conversations can provide much-needed support. But they must happen on women’s own terms, when they are ready to talk.
We are profiling amazing women, who are opening up about their experiences and piercing the taboo. That is empowering. Feeling forced to justify why you do or don’t have children, is not.
So the next time you are stuck for small talk, use an open and non-judgemental question like ‘what’s keeping you busy at the moment?’