On his TV show The Man From Auntie, comedian Ben Elton did a sketch about cervical smear tests.
It was 1994 and some people were shocked and embarrassed, complaining that graphic gynaecological jokes had no place on the BBC under the name “alternative comedy”.
But I found it hysterical.
I’d recently had my first smear test and, having worried unnecessarily for weeks, thought humour could tackle the taboo for others.
Returning every three years, I’d remember Ben marvelling at a woman’s ability to endure “an ice cold, duck-billed torpedo being shoved up your khyber”.
And joking that the most terrifying phrase in a doctor’s vocabulary was: “Knees apart, keep your bottom down, I am about to drive something not dissimilar to a Ford Cortina into your vagina.”
But in his OTT routine Ben also drove home the message to young women: “You’ve got to do this, it’s terribly important.”
In the 25 years since, tests for cervical cancer have changed no end.
Those scary metal speculums have been replaced by disposable ones in varying sizes.
So an experienced nurse can do the biz in 30 seconds with minimum discomfort – as we saw on Friday’sVictoria Derbyshire TV show. But why did they need to demonstrate this live on BBC2?
Because cervical screening uptake is at a 21-year low.
Five million women are overdue for testing and polls show 80 per cent of the 25 to 35-year-old delayers feel “too body-conscious” to attend.
Worrying about how they look “downstairs” and ashamed of being examined means they’re missing potentially life-saving tests.
Yet some would happily visit a beautician for an eye-watering Brazilian wax.
Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. A thousand die from it. But rates are predicted to rise 40 per cent in the next two decades.
After the reality TV star Jade Goody, 27, died from the cancer in 2009, 400,000 extra women attended their screenings.
But now that Jade effect has been wiped out, aided by unreal body images on social media.
We need to break these new taboos and remove the fear from the smear.
Or, as cervical cancer charities warn, “women will die from embarrassment”.
That’s a shocking and terrifying phrase in anyone’s vocabulary.
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