However, the survey also reveals the lingering presence of old "hang-ups" when it comes to feminine health, with almost one in four women (23 percent) aged 18 and older who go to gynecologists admitting that they have not been completely honest about their feminine health habits with their gynecologists.
A level of embarrassment in discussing women's anatomy also exists, as the survey revealed that less than half (43 percent) of women indicating that they are completely comfortable discussing their genitals and using the word "vagina." Specific inhibitions include 15 percent of women who indicate that they can say the word around other women, but not when men are around, and 14 percent who indicate they would rather use another phrase to refer to it, such as "down there."
"The fact that many women are going to see their doctors, and doing so along the recommended guidelines, is a strong step in the right direction," says Adelaide Nardone, M.D., FACOG, Clinical Instructor of Ob/Gyn at the Brown University School of Medicine and Medical Advisor to the Vagisil Women's Health CenterSM. "However, there are still many women who need to start taking charge of their gynecological health, put the embarrassment aside and foster frank, open relationships and discussions with their doctors."
Younger women (29 percent of those aged 18-34) and single vs. married women (34 percent vs. 20 percent, respectively) are more likely to admit to not being completely honest with their doctors. The top five subjects women are dishonest about are the fact that they smoke or have smoked, exercise habits, diet, number of sexual partners they have/have had and the number of alcoholic drinks they have per week.
According to Dr. Nardone, dishonesty with a doctor can have serious consequences.
"One example is smoking – there are certain methods of birth control with which women should not be smoking, so if you don't admit to this habit, you could be putting yourself at risk," says Dr. Nardone. "If you feel you have to withhold information about your lifestyle from your physician, you should ask yourself why. Try to find a health care provider who is of the age, gender and/or viewpoint with which you can identify."
Word-of-mouth appears to be a good referral for OB/GYNs, as about one in three women (35 percent) indicate they chose their doctor based on a great reputation or recommendation.
Common Health and Hygiene Issues: Itch and Odor
Forty-three percent of U.S. women aged 18 and older indicate having experienced vaginal itching. This problem is more prevalent in women under the age of 45 (50 percent of sufferers are age 18-44). Over half of women who experience vaginal itching (57 percent) indicate that they will self-treat external vaginal itch or an infection with over-the-counter medications first, before going to the doctor. However, only 13 percent indicate that they can always tell when external vaginal itch is result of an infection. Dr. Nardone recommends erring on the side of caution when it comes to problems such as itching.
"It's important to be careful when treating a condition such as itching, particularly if you suspect that it might be the result of an infection," said Dr. Nardone. "It's always wise to consult with a doctor if it's the first time you've experienced this, as the symptom may be a result of a different problem from the one you suspect. Itching may be relieved with over-the-counter products such as Vagisil® Maximum Strength Anti-Itch Creme or Wipes, but some itches are caused by infections. Infections often require prescription medication. If the medication to treat the infection is used internally, it may be used in conjunction with external anti-itch treatments."
Almost one in four women (23 percent) indicate that they are "very conscious" of their vaginal or external vaginal odor, with one in six (17 percent) saying that they are self-conscious about it when being intimate with a partner. Ten percent of women report using products to combat vaginal odor.
Almost half of U.S. women (47 percent) indicate that they use feminine health products for various purposes. Almost one in four (24 percent) women use feminine health products to clean the feminine area or to absorb excess discharge. Of those, the most common products used (by 12 percent) are feminine cleansing cloths. One in six women (17 percent) indicate that they use products to treat or ease feminine itching and one in six (17 percent) use lubricants to reduce or ease the discomfort of vaginal dryness.
Fashion and grooming trends have extended below the waist. One fourth (25 percent) of all women aged 18 and older report that they "closely trim their pubic hair with scissors or clippers," and 23 percent say they shave part of their pubic hair off. Nine percent say they shave all of their pubic hair off.
Women in the 18 to 44 age group are more likely to remove hair in their pubic region than women over 45, perhaps because this age group is more likely to think that men prefer a well-manicured pubic region on a woman (38 percent of women aged 18-44 think most men prefer a manicured look, compared to 14 percent of women aged 45-54 and 3 percent of those aged 55 and older). The look can sometimes come with a price, however, as one in six women (17%) experience itching and/or irritation following pubic hair removal.
"Women should be aware that hair removal in the genital area can make it more susceptible to irritation, trauma and infection," says Dr. Nardone.
For more information about women's health and the Vagisil brand of feminine products, visit the Vagisil Women's Health CenterSM at www.vagisil.com.
This survey, commissioned by the Vagisil Women's Health CenterSM, was conducted by Harris Interactive from February 2-6, 2006, via its QuickQuerySM online omnibus, interviewing a nationwide sample of 1,372 females aged 18+. Data were weighted to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to be online. In theory, with a probability sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the overall results have a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points of what they would be if the entire population of U.S. adult women had been polled with complete accuracy. Sampling error for the various sub-samples is higher and varies. This is not a probability sample.
About Harris Interactive®
Harris Interactive Inc. (www.harrisinteractive.com), based in Rochester, New York, is the 13th largest and the fastest-growing market research firm in the world, most widely known for The Harris Poll® and for its pioneering leadership in the online market research industry. Long recognized by its clients for delivering insights that enable confident business decisions, the Company blends the science of innovative research with the art of strategic consulting to deliver knowledge that leads to measurable and enduring value.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.