To celebrate Women’s Health Week, we invited our LOLA community via survey to come together and discuss what we can do to feel more prepared and in control of our reproductive health — at every age.
We collected over 2,800 responses to our Women’s Health Week survey, where we asked you to tell us how you feel about annual preventative care exams, what questions you have about your reproductive health, and whether or not you feel ready for the life stages ahead.
Read on for the results of our survey, complete with real quotes from participants — and a few questions answered by Dr. Corina Dunlap, a board certified naturopathic doctor and medical researcher who specializes in women’s health.
Here’s what we found…
We had a wide range of survey respondents, from age 18 to 48, yet there were some common themes among responses. Many expressed a desire for conversations around reproductive health to extend beyond sexual health education in childhood. Additionally, many respondents asked specific questions about their reproductive health, regardless of age.
• 40% of people who responded to our survey said they did not feel prepared for their next reproductive life stage. For example, they might be on birth control now, but are planning to get pregnant soon and don’t know what to expect.
• 34% of respondents said they had not been to a gynecologist or had a well-woman exam in the last year. Of the respondents who did have a gynecological or well-woman exam within the last year, 59% said they did not feel prepared for their appointment – and 38% of those respondents also cited anxiety beforehand
• 50% of people who responded to our survey said they had never spoken with a female relative about their family’s reproductive health history. The other half cited questions relating to cancer, pregnancy, and miscarriages. Typically, those conversations were with their mothers.
What we asked you…
Have you ever spoken to a female relative about your family’s reproductive health history? If so, what did you ask?
“We have a lot of hysterectomies on my mom’s side. And I told my mom about my heavy, almost all the time bleeding. We think I need a hysterectomy but as a single mom making less than $30k, that’s not affordable. So I’ve been bleeding almost daily for 3 years.”
“I didn’t really have to ask anything! My mom is super open about this kind of thing, so talked about it a lot with me growing up (i.e. her abortion, her miscarriage, her pregnancies, as well as the histories of our female relatives).”
“My periods were difficult before I learned that birth control and other methods could help to relieve some of my issues… I talked a lot with my mom and grandmothers about their cycles to figure out if what was happening to me was par for the course.”
“I didn’t ask, but my mother told me that we get pregnant easily, we get UTIs frequently, and my mom gets cysts in her uterus and breasts, so to be aware of that.”
“My mom died 6 years ago. I recently asked my oldest sister when our mom went through menopause. Over the course of having 3 babies, I have talked to my mom and sisters multiple times about their child bearing history.”
What is the one thing about your reproductive health that you wished you understood more?
“Literally everything. In school we learned women get periods – and that was pretty much it. Every other thing I’ve learned about my body or reproductive health I have learned from social media and from my own research.”
“I wish women talked more freely about the change in their periods after having children. Our bodies change drastically after having children, and often it is years before we understand how and why. The years between having babies and menopause is rarely spoken about.”
“PMS and the depression and anxiety revolves around the cycle that a women has and [its] stages. I wish I would have been more prepared on how my PMS and mood would change as I got older. That my cramps would possibly increase and need strong pain pills. The main thing is how my hormones and the cycle that they are in at any given time of the month have a factor in mood at the time.”
“I’m a college student, and I recently learned at my on campus women’s health clinic that I probably have a tilted/retroverted uterus (I was having pain after sex). I know in the past my mom briefly told me that she had a tilted uterus; I just wish she would have told me more about it, told me it was genetic, etc.”
“How my IUD may or may not affect my reproductive health in the future. Also how to start planning (financially and otherwise) for egg freezing if that’s something I’m considering even in the next five years (but currently don’t have any money saved for it).”
“Just maintenance in general. I wish that it was a normal conversation topic that women just had with women as a part of regular life. I would like more transparency with the entire process of reproductive well being.”
…and what we asked an expert, for you:
We were overwhelmed by the volume of questions and concerns that you had about aspects of your reproductive health. So, we turned to LOLA medical advisor, Dr. Dunlap, for a few answers. Here’s what she had to say.
1. “My mother had a hysterectomy in her 40s. We talked about the symptoms and issues that led up to that course of action. As someone who has experienced PCOS, infertility, miscarriage, I’ve had lots of these conversations through the years with family members.”
It is really important to understand family history when it comes to your own reproductive health future, but it doesn’t predict exactly what will happen for you. There are effective ways to optimize natural menstrual cycles and hormonal conditions without the use of drug therapy or IVF. You just need to look for providers who have this training and expertise. – Dr. Dunlap
2. “My family has a history of cervical cancer. I asked who had diagnosed or had undergone surgery to remove a cyst. I found that my mom, my grandma, my great aunt and two of my aunts had cervical or ovarian cancerous or benign cysts.”
Cervical cancer is not hereditary. It is caused by a virus known as human papillomavirus (hpv). The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular annual exams and pap/hpv testing as recommended by your doctor. Ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers have a hereditary component, and are important to know about, and disclose to your doctor. A history of cysts doesn’t really give a doctor any specific information unless you know the type of cyst. Naturally occuring cysts/follicles develop every month and are part of healthy ovulation. Many women are told they have a cyst after imaging, but it can be what we call a “functional,” cyst, or otherwise part of healthy physiology. They are not always problematic. – Dr. Dunlap
3. “Menopause. When does it start, how does it feel, how long does it last, what happens after. Like every other stage of women’s reproductive health, no one talks about it, so you don’t know exactly what to expect until you go through it yourself.”
You are right! There isn’t nearly enough information out there on this topic, and most women are woefully underprepared. The average age for menopause to occur is 51 years old, but the term “menopause” is misleading because it actually only refers to a 24-hr period that is 1 year from that woman’s last period. Perimenopause refers to the years preceding menopause when women have symptoms, but haven’t yet reached “menopause.” Symptoms can start a whole decade before menopause. Menopause can also happen at any age. If you notice strange things with your period (too long, too short, or very heavy), hot flashes/night sweats, or mood swings, these are some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause. There are blood tests that can be run to determine if you are perimenopausal. Ask your doctor if you are concerned. – Dr. Dunlap