Sex, vaginas & cancer research: taking on the elephant in the room
Updated: May 1, 2019
Gynaecological cancer research is ridiculously underfunded. Not only is the "elephant in the room" getting peanuts, but the elephant is getting less and less peanuts. Here's the run down and the top 21 reasons why we need cancer research to save and enhance women's lives.
First, a word of warning: if you get offended when hearing the words sex and vaginas, then let's face it this blog post isn't for you. (Unless of course, there’s a woman in your life who you care about, then you should take a deep breath, and read on).
Well, apparently those words are enough to turn away most people allocating funds for cancer research.
"I believe gynecological cancers, especially, create vulnerability in women like nothing else. We have had the part of our body that brings pleasure violated, burned, poked, prodded, and at times removed… the emotional wear and tear can last a lifetime.”
These are the words of Kristin, a cervical cancer survivor, reported by Self in an brilliant article This Is What Sex After Gynecological Cancer Is Really Like. Those words sum up why I cracked the champagne when getting my PhD scholarship at the start of my 1,095-day journey. I felt that the voices of women like Kristin had finally been heard. That our health and womanhood matter. My research is only a very small part of the puzzle. Every time you share a blog post, have a conversation, get screened, organise a fun run, or raise money for gynaecological cancer research you show that you care too.
Gynaecological cancer research: the elephant in the room
A recent study presented at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer revealed that of the 13 cancers analysed between 2007 and 2014, funding for ovarian cancer research ranked 9th, followed by cervical cancer, and finally uterine cancer ranked next to last.
In comparison, breast and prostate cancer scores were nearly 32 times higher than uterine cancer, 21 times higher than cervical cancer and 19 times higher than ovarian cancer. And, funding is DECREASING.
Before you ask, these numbers are adjusted for incidence and mortality rates, which means all scores should be 1. If you'd like the full run down, check out this brilliant article Gynecologic cancer research disproportionately underfunded.
21 reasons why sex, vaginas and cancer research matter
Like Kristin, I know what it feels like to live with the aftermaths of gynaecological cancer.
But, this is bigger than me. Here are the top 21 reasons why I'm taking on the elephant in the room as part of my PhD to "improve the sexual quality of life of women living with gynaecological cancers", and why gyn cancer research needs more love:
Because sex is good for us (and has a huge impact on our quality of life).
Because having enjoyable, safe and comfortable sex is a human right.
Because gynaecological cancer research is disproportionately underfunded.
Because funding for gyn cancer research is DECREASING.
Because if gyn cancers don't get their fair share in research funding, we risk lagging behind in prevention, survival and therapy development.
Because out of the 3 million women living with gynaecological cancers, up to 70% of them live with temporary or permanent sexual difficulties.
Because women who have been declared cancer-free feel ashamed of asking for help about their sexuality.
Because talking about our "health down there" and sexual concerns is taboo.
Because women living with gyn cancers have expressed unmet sexual needs.
Because we do not know how to improve sexual quality of life after gyn cancers.
Because I refuse to accept the status quo.
Because young cancer survivors suffer in silence for years after treatment.
Because (most not all) doctors are embarrassed to talk sex.
Because relationships and families pay the price (e.g. broken marriages).
Because cancer treatment can alter our womanhood (emotionally and physically).
Because I believe we can do better.
Because surviving cancer doesn’t mean we should feel bad about experiencing pleasure
Because we need to go beyond sexual dysfunction.
Because I want answers. Because other women want answers.
Because we bloody deserve it - we deserve to have people care, to embrace our new bodies and feel strong and fabulous.
This is not to say other cancers don’t matter – rather that gynaecological cancers deserve the same love, attention and funding proportionally to other cancers.
Every time you speak up or take action, you tell the world that cancer research – and our vaginas - matter. Thank you.