While our health and wellbeing should always be a priority, January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so it's especially important time to learn more about screenings and the cancer that 4,210 women will die from this year. While cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women, according to the American Cancer Society, the death rate has gone down by more than 50 percent thanks to the increased use of the Pap test, which is recommended with the HPV test for women ages 30-65 and alone for women ages 21-29 — so it's incredibly important that we're visiting our doctors and getting screened. But as a recent survey found, women definitely have some gynecologist jitters.
The survey, by National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health and HealthyWomen with support from Hologic, Inc. explored how women really feel about their appointments and what they do to prep, and found that seven in 10 women spend more time showering before their GYN exam, seven in 10 women specifically shave or wax for their GYN exam, and most women in their 30s *think* about sex at their exams but many won't bring it up. "We're thinking more about the appointment than about those honest discussions," Melanie Notkin, author of Otherhood: Modern Women Finding A New Kind of Happiness, founder of Savvy Auntie, and outspoken advocate for women, tells Bustle. "We're vulnerable, we are naked, and the exam is in the most intimate parts of our bodies. We should be talking about our sex lives, but we'd rather talk about This Is Us than our sex lives and asking the right questions."
She urges women ask their healthcare professionals for the Pap + HPV Together test if you're in your 30s and a Pap test if you're in your 20s "It's these tests that make sure that your healthcare professional can determine if there pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. Thank god [cervical cancer] is much less common after medical professionals discovered it is often caused by HPV, not all HPV but HPV can lead to pre-cancerous cells, which can lead to cancer."
In writing Otherhood, where includes stories from women who expected love, marriage, and children, she's learned a lot about how women talk about honesty, but aren't always honest with themselves — especially when it comes to thing people could judge them for. "I've been focused on women telling their true stories, their honest stories," she says. "That's information we need to provide health professionals when we go to them — that can save lives."
So how can you be more authentic? Notkin joined us for a Facebook live to share tips on being your true self, whether you're telling a partner about an STI or explaining to your grandma why you're single. Check out the video and some of Notkin's best advice below.
1What To Know About STIs & STI Screenings
"Women in their 20s should definitely have their annual exam and if they have something, they should talk to their healthcare professional about it and find out all the details — learn about it," Notkin says. "HPV is a virus and most often it goes away like any other virus like a cold, but it's important everyone discusses it with their doctors. You can actually get HPV with a condom because its skin-to-skin contact and these are things we need to understand."
As for telling someone you're dating you have an STI — Notkin recommends honesty once again. "I'm all about the truth," she says. "Make sure you have all the information. Speak to your healthcare professional about getting all the information and resolve to be honest with your partner."
2Using Dating Apps
Notkin says dating apps enabled her to meet men she wouldn't have met otherwise. But of course, there are some drawbacks to swiping. "It's also a great way to feel overwhelmed by dating," Notkin says. "It has its pros and cons but people are meeting this way."
3How To Deal With Dating Pressure
Feeling like everyone around you is falling in love and getting married? Notkin says to not let the pressure get to you, especially the pressure you're putting on yourself.
"When measure our lives against others' expectations of us, then we'll never find happiness because it's not an authentic life," she says. "I thought I'd be married and would have kids in my 20s, 30s, and 40s. It didn't happen, yet I'm a happy woman. You can't judge your life by how other people judge your life. You have to be your authentic self. I never want to be the wrong wife in the wrong life. I never want to get married because of pressure."
4How To Enjoy Dating More
"I'm 47 and I've never enjoyed dating more than I do now than in my 40s," she says. "I'm learning about myself more than anything. I just love going out and meeting new guys, having great conversations, and being in the moment. I think dating's fun, and once you decide dating's fun, even the worst date can be fun. Just enjoy yourself."
So how can you do the same? "Enjoy the moment. You're out, you're having a drink, having a dinner, whatever you're doing, appreciate the moment," Notkin says. "Appreciate how connecting with somebody else can add to your life and hopefully those moments lead to where you want them to lead."
She suggests thinking of dates as adventures. "You don't have to have an adventure three days a week, but if you want to, go for it," she says.
5How To Come Peace With Being Childless
Expected to have children but didn't? Notkin calls this "circumstantial infertility". So how has she dealt with grief over being childless? "Writing Otherhood really helped, and writing essays for Huffington Post and Psychology Today really helped," she says. "In the end, when one thinks of oneself as incomplete — as "other" to mother — then we don't live an authentic, happy life because we're judging ourselves the way others judge us, from the outside in and not from the inside out. In the end, I know motherhood was not my destiny. I say, "babies come from the womb and maternity comes from the soul. There are many ways to mother and that's why I created Savvy Auntie."
6What To Do When You Feel Sad About Being Single
Of course, being single isn't always easy. You can be single and fabulous af but still feel frustrated. "If I'm honest, [feeling sad about being single] happens," she says. "I would love to have a partner. I love the idea of love, but I also can't let that control my life, or my happiness, or my ability. More forward and keep going. Just make a decision, don't have borderline regret. If you're dating someone who doesn't want children, you know the answer. I don't know the answer but you do. Make the decision and move forward and keep going."