This is a bit like people driving without being able to read a map. Conducted by The Eve Appeal, a survey of 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom (which hopefully you can locate on a map) revealed that 50% of men couldn’t identify the vagina on an anatomical diagram. With the seeming endless amount of sex advice out there in books, articles, and on the Internet, you would think that “know where the vagina is” would be near the top of the advice list for heterosexual men.
Before you think that this is a “Men are from Mars” thing, a previous survey by Eve Appeal, a UK-based charity organization focused on the five gynecological cancers (ovarian, womb, cervical, vaginal and vulvar), found that half of 1000 women aged 26 to 35 years couldn’t find a vagina on a diagram either, as reported by Zara Kenyon for Cosmopolitan. So basically both genders seem equally unsure about what they may be looking at…which is not good for many reasons.
Presumably most are not completely missing the mark and thinking that the vagina is next to the ear or on the elbow. However, they seem to be confusing the various structures in the pelvic region, information that basic sex education and basic human biology should cover. Are the British on an island when it comes to lack of such knowledge? While The Eve Appeal only polled those in the United Kingdom, there have been indications that many Americans lack basic sex knowledge as well. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released two years ago showed that only a fraction of middle schools (around 20%) and less than half of high schools are covering all 16 of the nationally recommended topics for sexual health education and that sex and health education is required for graduation in less than 40% of schools, as reported by Mike Segar in Newsweek. Surveys, such as one conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, have confirmed that many men don’t seem to have even basic knowledge about sex.
Of course, not knowing the anatomy could help explain in part why some surveys (such as a University of New Brunswick study reported by The Toronto Star) have found that a sizable percentage of people are not enjoying sex. This would be analogous to playing football without quite knowing the rules or where exactly the goal posts are. Randomly kicking a ball in different directions is just not fun. However, there are other consequences of lacking “geographic” knowledge such as improperly using devices (e.g., female condoms) that are supposed to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and not knowing the relevant facts when voting on policies that may affect women, reproduction, STIs, and cancer prevention and treatment.
Additionally, knowing the anatomy can help both men and women detect gynecological cancers early, and early detection generally means better treatment success. Why men? Well, a woman’s partner often can have vantage points that the woman can not have (without setting up a series of mirrors angled in the right direction) and see abnormalities sooner. This is yet another reason not to keep your eyes closed throughout sex.
In fact, The Eve Appeal timed the release of the survey results to coincide with the start of Gynecological Cancer Awareness month, which if you are not aware, is September. I’ll assume that you know where all the major structures are but in case you wanted to tell a friend, a CDC website describes the five cancers and their originating locations:
- Cervical cancer: the cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus, and connects the vagina to the upper part of the uterus
- Ovarian cancer: the ovaries are located on each side of the uterus. The ovary produces eggs that then pass through fallopian tubes to the uterus.
- Uterine cancer: the uterus (also known as the womb) is the pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant. Endometrial cancer originates from the inside lining of the uterus.
- Vaginal cancer: the vagina (also known as the birth canal) is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
- Vulvar cancer: the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs, has two folds of skin, called the labia. The most common location for vulvar cancer is the inner edges of the labia.
Source: Forbes Magazine