Facts On The Sexual And Reproductive Health Of Adolescent Women
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Adolescence is not an easy time, neither for the adolescent nor for the parent. It is a stage when a young girl undergoes a metamorphosis into a woman.It is a phase of self-awareness, easy susceptibility to peer pressure, menarche, and development of secondary sexual features, attraction, and arousal.
Today on ‘Sexual And Reproductive Health Awareness Day’, here are the top 7 facts on adolescent health:
- Period pain is not normal: There may be mild cramping, but anything worse than that, especially a pain that makes a young girl miss school or skip a social event, may be symptomatic of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a crippling disease that affects women from adolescence to menopause. It occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus occurs in the pelvis and the abdomen, produces painful inflammation, and bloody tissue- which causes organs to get stuck to one another.
It’s a matter of concern that some general practitioners and OBGYs just prescribe painkillers for the problem, and do not treat the disease. It just masks the symptoms, while the disease continues to proliferate and spread. There is a global campaign afoot to spread awareness about this disease.
2. Sexual activity: As much as adults may be in denial, 46% of teenagers are sexually active and the number rises to 64%, by the time they reach 18 years of age. We need to stop preaching abstinence and start educating our teens about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), consent, and safe sex. They need to be educated about preventing unwanted pregnancies.
3. PCOS: Polycystic ovaries are a common condition, which usually lead to irregular periods and hormonal changes. Due to the hormonal imbalances, it may cause weight gain, acne, excessive hair growth, and darkening of the skin around the groin, armpit, and back of the neck. PCOS causes a derangement of insulin metabolism which is important to be controlled, because it causes a host of problems in adult life, such as infertility, obesity, and predisposes an individual to chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Teenagers diagnosed with PCOS must make an effort to lead an active lifestyle and inculcate healthy eating habits which when combined with a medical regimen should keep her healthy and disease-free, well into her adult life.
4. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and Bacterial Vaginosis: Hormonal changes and sexual activity predisposes young adults to urinary tract infections and vaginal infections. They should be educated about maintaining proper hygiene of the genital area by regular bathing, correct usage of menstrual pads or tampons, avoiding unsafe sexual practices, and staying well-hydrated and healthy.
5. Cancer prevention: In this day and age, we must work towards prevention of cancer rather than looking for a cure. Teenagers become susceptible toward HPV infections which are the precursors of cancers of the cervix. Any sexual activity increases the risk of HPV infection. PAP smears are warranted once a young woman becomes sexually active; young adults should seriously consider the HPV vaccine at this age.
6. Sex should not be painful: Dyspareunia or painful sexual intercourse is not normal. It may be a superficial pain at the vaginal opening, which is usually caused by an involuntary contraction of the vaginal sphincter or it may be deep dyspareunia which is significant for an underlying disease like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, et cetera. Both these conditions are quite common and the tricky part is that most adolescents are more likely to confide in their peers than in their parents.
This makes the diagnosis or identification of these problems, virtually impossible, not to mention the plethora of misinformation, they would potentially receive from their friends. Parents must develop a rapport with their teenage children to ensure that they confide in them about sex or any issue they may face.
7. We need to shift focus on overall health of women: The problem with modern medicine and society on the whole is that a woman’s fertility is valued more than her overall health. Any discussion on women’s health in medical circles focus more on improving her ability to conceive, and consider her pain and overall health as an afterthought. Today’s women are more career-oriented and do not mind delaying or even avoiding marriage and childbirth.
We as a society and medical practitioners need to start listening to them, instead of trying to get them to conform to the archaic ways of the past. We need to encourage our young adults to pursue what they enjoy and what they excel in, and not drive them to an early marriage, and childbearing.
A teenage girl seeks the approval of her peers rather than her parents. The growing interest in the opposite sex may lead to some unhealthy decisions. Parents of adolescent girls need to be open-minded and observant of the above-mentioned facts.
Dr Abhishek Mangeshikar is an Excisional Specialist and the Director of The Indian Centre of Endometriosis (ICE). He is also a Health Council Member at Healthhunt.