Let's talk pleasure, shall we?
September is National Sexual Health Month, and a healthy sex life includes pain-free, safe enjoyment. We are well aware going to the gynecologist is a vulnerable experience for any woman. However, feeling on display coupled with Black women being the target of racist and sexist stereotypes such as the wanton "Jezebel" since the 16th century stop many in our community from receiving the care they deserve.
One's sexual health informs overall health. And intimacy aside, unchecked sexual health can create more than just discomfort in the bedroom. Undesirable odor, heavy periods, and general discomfort within the pelvis are some common symptoms of unchecked sexual health. Partnered or not being preoccupied with any of the above will certainly impede your ability to thrive.
Black women are disproportionately affected by fibroids, sexually transmitted infections (STI), breast cancer, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). All of these can make sex and otherwise pleasurable experiences, at best, challenging and, at worst impossible. Learn more about each below and follow up with your general practitioner if you have any concerns.
What is it: Abnormal growths that are usually benign or non-cancerous and develop within or on the uterus. Depending on where they are located, their exact name varies. Fibroids may also be called leiomyomas, myomas, uterine myomas, or fibromas.
Prevalence in the Black community: Nearly 80 percent of Black women by age 50 will have fibroids, though not all will have symptoms. Black women experience both higher prevalence and symptom severity than other populations. Black women are also nearly four times as likely to have fibroid-related health problems than white women.
Symptom: Not all fibroids create symptoms. However, common symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, significant pelvic pain, anemia, frequent urination, fertility problems, and pregnancy complications.
Detection: Routine physical exams typically reveal fibroids. An ultrasound or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is often conducted to confirm a diagnosis. However, additional testing options include a hysterosonography, hysterosalpingography, and hysteroscopy.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
What is it: Infections passed from one to another via sexual contact. Health officials have cataloged more than 20 STIs with chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis among the most commonly transmitted.
Prevalence in Black community: There was an increase across the board of reported STIs from 2019-2020. However, the rate of contraction for Black women is staggering. Black women are nearly five times more likely to contract chlamydia, almost seven times more likely to contract gonorrhea, and nine times more likely to contract syphilis than their white counterparts.
Symptom: When symptoms occur, they depend on the infection. Painful urination, unusual discharge, unusual bleeding, and warts accompanied by an itchy sensation are all common signs to follow up with a physician.
Detection: STIs are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. To determine with certainty, a physician will first examine the pubic region for lesions or discrepancies and then order blood, urine, and fluid testing.
What is it: A disease in which breast cells grow out of control. Names vary depending on which cells of the breast grow.
Prevalence in the Black community: Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for non-Hispanic Black women. About 12 percent of Black women are diagnosed within their lifetime.
Symptoms: Breast cancer impacts everyone differently, but early detection is possible when looking out for swelling or reddening of the breast, a new lump or mass, nipple changes or discharge, dimpled skin like an orange peel, or enlarged lymph nodes.
Detection: Doctors encourage yearly examinations for women after the age of 40. Mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and breast MRIs are crucial to early discovery and detection.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
What is it: Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common health problem due to increased hormone androgen levels and the presence of fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries.
Prevalence in the Black community: According to the National Institute of Health, PCOS affects 5 million American women. Black women are disproportionately impacted by risk factors such as obesity which greatly impact the community. As the disorder runs in families, those with a mother or sister with PCOS are at an increased risk.
Symptom: The symptoms of PCOS include, but are not limited to, missed, irregular, or light periods, acne or oily skin, enlarged ovaries, infertility or difficulty getting pregnant, and excessive body hair ( hirsutism).
Detection: The detection of PCOS is a very straightforward process. A routine blood screening is commonly utilized to examine hormone levels, specifically for androgen. Additionally, an ultrasound to view ovary size can be expected.