A young artist I know is creating a retrospective of the 1960s. As she describes each photograph, I am reminded of how far women have come in their ability to talk about their health and their sexuality. Over the past 50 years, times have changed enough that women of today are desensitized to advertisements on female nutrition, exercise, menstruation, birth control and menopause. Teenage girls are free to use words like "period," "pregnant," "condom," "tampon," "vagina" and "penis" without embarrassment, and adult women confidently describe vaginal dryness, yeast infections and hot flashes.
Though times have changed, each of us carries from our pasts our health legacy. What did you inherit? Is it a family history of breast cancer? At what age? What was the treatment? What was the outcome? Is it a legacy of hysterectomy? Heart disease? Incontinence? Gallbladder disease?
In addition to inheriting a health history, we inherit an emotional health history as well. In Toni’s family, for instance, all the women had hysterectomies around age 50 because in 1947 Grandma died of uterine cancer. As Toni approached 50, she was insistent that she have a hysterectomy, too, although her gynecologist assured her that her body was healthy. Through counseling, Toni realized that her wish for a hysterectomy had more to do with "fitting in" with the women of her family than it did with her health.
Toni’s case is an example of how the women of our families convey to their images of sexual health to us. Some families teach the girls in a natural way about good sexuality, common sexual problems and ways to maintain sexual health. Others are the opposite. Young adolescent girls are shocked to find they are bleeding vaginally and are frightened that something is wrong with them. Some brides are taught to have sex with their husbands no matter how painful or demanding it is. Others learn that you never discuss sexual issues with anyone, including the doctor. And yet, others learn that women are subservient to men, and the family focus is on the males and their satisfaction, while devaluing the females.
What is your emotional health culture?
SOMETHING YOU CAN DO:
To discover more about your emotional health legacy, draw a family tree and after labeling the family members, write down what you know about:
their health history
their sexual history
how their health and/or sexuality affected their behavior
how other family members reacted to them
what has been taught to you
what are your perceptions about your own emotional health history