Roughly 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, according to the Center for Disease and Prevention Control. In the U.S, one in 10 girls will be diagnosed with Endometriosis, a disease that affects approximately 176 million women around the world. About 5 to 10 percent of women in their childbearing years struggle with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. Women’s health issues are becoming increasingly important as more women are being treated for life threatening issues, complex or diagnosable rarities and other health problems.

Women are often very quick to dismiss pain, discomfort and other symptoms as “cramps” or “hormones.” Many times, the symptoms being ignored are warning signs for a bigger problem. Even the smallest changes in a woman’s body can mean the body is enduring a health issue that needs medical attention. Changes in weight, difficult urination, back or pelvis pain, nausea, painful intercourse, headaches, bleeding and many more symptoms can foreshadow a diagnosable problem.

The U.S. needs more reproductive and sexual health awareness and education. Many are not educated about the health concerns that can arise from ovarian, vaginal and abdominal pains. It is a serious issue that is overlooked as unimportant or minor. Being in tune with your body is important in order to catch issues quickly and treat them as soon as possible. Painful sex is not normal. Extremely painful periods are not normal. Rapid changes in your body are not normal. It is important that we refrain from letting the pain or dealing with discomfort become so normalized that we don’t give the proper attention or focus on helping our bodies. Time after time, women are told “it’s just your hormones,” “every body is different,” “some people just have bad periods” and “sex can be painful.” While some of these may be true in a few circumstances, a majority of the time these issues require medical attention.

Ignoring your body can lead to devastating effects. Many reproductive health issues such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, Endometriosis, uterine fibroids and many more can lead to infertility. If caught early, the chance to conceive when a woman desires is much higher, but if issues like these go untreated for prolonged amounts of time, they will cause fertility chances to decrease dramatically. If she desires, a woman’s body will one day become a home for a child. Therefore, it is incredibly important to take care of and nurture the growth of a healthy environment for a child that may one day grow inside.

Besides reproductive purposes, having these health issues are painful and affect every day of your life. Sex obviously isn’t just for reproductive purposes, and having health issues that cause painful sex is damaging. Asking for medical help to extinguish pain or discomfort could change your life if it’s something you’ve been struggling with.

I have dealt with extremely painful ovarian and pelvic pain for almost a year before I realized it wasn’t normal. Sometimes we can become so desensitized to our own pain, we forget it isn’t something we should be feeling. After finally making a doctor appointment, I was diagnosed with an ovarian condition as well as persistent ovarian cysts. Though it is something I still struggle with, the comfort that comes with knowing why my body was in distress and being able to treat those symptoms has helped so much.

Women should not be embarrassed, ashamed or afraid of talking about reproductive and sexual health. It can save your life. Pay attention to your body, your pains and your gut. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.

Casey Pimentel is a 19-year-old mass communication sophomore from The Woodlands, Texas.

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