A friend of a family member blindsided us recently when she shared over the phone--and not in a hushed tone--about a most private body part.
She blurted out: “I’m having a lot of pain with my vagina.” Yes, that innermost female genitalia that rarely gets mentioned except in a sex education class or gynecologist’s office. The woman with the vaginal tissue issue didn’t even offer a hint that she was about to share the pain she was enduring.
We didn’t know how to react. So, we did what any good friend would most likely do. We listened, learned more about her vagina than we probably know about ours or anybody else’s, sympathized, emphasized, and gently tried to shift the conversation to back pain. She wouldn’t have any part of that anatomical part. She wanted to regale us with her part down under, which was the cause of her excruciating pain, the treatment, medicines, pain in sitting for long periods, difficulty of finding the right doctor for a cure, and her hopes and dreams for a full vagina recovery. We wondered: Is there a place where those with malfunctioning vaginas can go for a tune up?
In fact, she kept saying the word so many times, vagina, vagina, vagina. Alright already, we get it. We knew her vagina meant a lot to her. Of course, it would. It does to any woman. It’s not like men, however. We don’t need to brag about its size and we certainly don’t have envy of each other’s vaginas. Or most of us don’t.
The visuals were hard to picture which makes empathizing difficult. Let’s face it, when someone goes on and on about a part it’s hard not to picture it. We picture knees when they come up, along with shoulders, necks, tummies, even prostate glands and breasts but this seemed different. A vagina is like the black box of a woman’s body. Everyone knows where it is, but few know what goes on inside.
We now had to listen to and then picture, like clock parts, the inner recesses of her vagina —the labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, mucus membranes, all the folds and anatomy in detail.
All this brought to the fore that finding a safe conversation these days can be downright tough. Politics has been off limits as a too-hot-button topic to discuss for years, even before President Trump took office. It’s easy to be politically incorrect when discussing race or ethnicity. And we try and be sensitive and not brag or even talk too much about our kids and grandkids since it’s frankly boring except when we know them well. Even travel is becoming tiresome as the subject de jour with so many we know outdoing one another in how far and exotic they can go.
So, we talk about what seems to be on everyone who’s aging minds: the state of our organs and getting new parts. This one is having a knee replacement and needs to know the latest on treatments and recoveries; that one will undergo a rotator cuff repair and is preparing for what they’ve heard is excruciating pain; and yet another is getting a few new valves and wonders what the exercise restrictions will be. We can identify and empathize with all these increasingly common repairs as we hit 70 and beyond. But a vagina? There is no vagina replacement part.
This vagina banter, we reasoned, was a little too little on the down low. After a few weeks passed, we wondered if we should be kind enough to inquire about the state of her vagina. How do you do this? Call up and come right out and say, “How’s your vagina doing today?” Or is it more polite to say, “Anything new with your v?” and know that she’ll get the shorthand, or how about, “What’s going on down below?” That seems so childish, like we were afraid to utter the words sex and certainly intercourse when we were children learning about that.
But we try to be sympathetic. Typically, when someone isn’t feeling well, we like to bring them something to make them feel better. What, we wondered, is the proper gift to send a person when her vagina isn’t feeling great? Chicken soup is for colds, tea is for sore throats, Gatorade is for dehydration, but what the hell do you send someone to help ease a painful vagina? We came up with a few:
- Epsom salts and suggest a soak in a tub
- An ice pack to numb the area
- Comfortable 100 percent cotton underwear that has the days of the week embroidered on them so she can keep track of the “good” days
- A book on how to do Kegel exercises
Maybe, it really is time to initiate the rule a friend shared about how her group handles illnesses at this stage of life. Everybody is entitled to three minutes, no exceptions. And bringing up vagina in mixed company would most likely put the kabosh forever on this "private" conversation.