As part of our project to develop a support hub for breast screening we have been talking to women about what they want and were quite surprised with what we found. The key message is that women are different! Well, yes, nothing surprising in that, but these differences appear to be thrown into sharp relief in matters related to intimate health.
Importantly, there are differences between women in terms of their willingness to share or ‘disclose’ intimate health issues with others. Some women said they would readily do this whilst others said breast health was too personal a topic to share. What factors might explain these differences?
Is it a ‘generational thing’? No, we found that the younger women in our study could be similarly reluctant to share information about intimate health. This was echoed by Seung-A Annie Jin who examined disclosure on Twitter by American students and showed that in this young group, personal information relating to daily life activities and entertainment interests were disclosed easily. However, in terms of private disclosure, participants were most reluctant to discuss health related issues.
Instead of age-related influencers, we found that the choices a woman makes about disclosing personal and intimate health might be closer to home; that is, they were related to the personal relationships she has. In our study, women reported being more comfortable discussing breast health if she was surrounded by female relatives or had been brought up in female-dominated households.
We haven’t yet explored the influence of other social categories on an individual women’s willingness to talk about health. However, low up-take of breast screening by some ethnic minority and/or socio-economic groups suggests women from the groups might find comfort in a private place to talk. Our proposed on-line breast screening network could therefore provide a female-oriented place of support for those women who are unable to talk to others face-to-face such as those who live or socialise in a male dominated environment.
Another fascinating issue to explore is the way the breast is construed differently by different cultures and consequently by individual women. There is perhaps no other organ in the body which exists at such polar opposites. It can be both the most objectively functional and at the same time subjectively feminine part of a woman’s body. Defined anatomically it is an organ of reproduction and yet even to women who have not conceived it is not without immensely important purpose, in terms of defining their femininity and sexuality. To some women both functions are equally important, for others the breast’s only purpose is for breast-feeding, and for others still it is primarily related to sexuality.
With these completely opposing perspectives about the breasts, it is understandable that some women may feel discomfort in talking about them whilst others may see them as no more an intimate part of her body than her nose! Our breast screening hub needs to be sensitive to these differences is it’s to relevant to all women. We need to make sure women have the opportunity to share in a safe and private forum and there must be some way of fostering tolerance and understanding of differing points of view.
Where do you stand; breast or nose?
Next time: how might these things influence client/mammographer interactions?