Editor’s letter: The taboo we need to talk about

I don’t think I’ve ever told you something as deeply personal as I’m about to. 

It involves an excruciatingly embarrassing visit to a doctor’s surgery – as we all know, no glamorous tale ever starts here, so brace yourself. It was an annual health check provided by my company. Part of the health screening was a cervical smear. The embarrassment was my male doctor’s. He seemed put out that I wanted to have the exam, because – and I quote – ‘Well, you’re a girl and I’m a boy.’ He was a lot younger than me, possibly not that long out of medical school. His awkwardness made me feel awkward and embarrassed, which in turn led to me getting quite annoyed. As women, none of us jumps for joy when the day for a smear test has arrived. This guy was drawing out an already unpleasant process. Damned if I was letting his discomfort cheat me from a potentially life-saving medical exam. I politely asked him to get a grip, and a female nurse in the room if it made him feel better, but get ready because I’m going on that bench! 

Why am I telling you this? Because I thought about it when I read Anna Moore’s excellent piece about the embarrassment women can face when trying to restart their sex lives after dealing with cancer. It’s awful, isn’t it, to think that you survive all the trauma of the most cruel disease, only to find that no one told you about this whole new battle in getting your intimate life with your partner back on track. So many of the courageous women who spoke to us said that, after they had plucked up the courage to seek professional advice about their chemo-induced pain or low libido, they were often met with stammering embarrassment from a health professional. It’s so interesting to me that when it comes to matters concerning the ‘downstairs’, so many people find it awkward to discuss. When that includes medical professionals, we have serious problems. 

One of the great privileges of editing a magazine is being in a position to raise the subjects that perhaps no one else wants to. In my opinion, when a subject feels too sensitive or too embarrassing to discuss, it’s a glaring sign that we really must. Which is why I’m very grateful to the women in our feature for helping us bring attention to an issue that’s still very much an afterthought in cancer care. Let’s see if we can change that, shall we? 

In an issue where we’re dragging a taboo topic into the light, I couldn’t think of a better cover girl than Kate Garraway. She has long been a champion of making us examine the most uncomfortable, unmentionable aspects of our lives – from the weird shaming of breastfeeding to the realities of intimacy in long-term relationships in her book The Joy of Big Knickers. Her appearance on I’m A Celebrity… has been a real shot in the arm for her career and her personal mojo. I think we’ve been so accustomed to seeing Kate on our TV screens for so many years that we’ve taken her presence for granted. All that’s changed with a transformational trip to the jungle and it’s not just her husband Derek whose eyes were suddenly on stalks. But her wit and kindness together with her journalist’s natural interest in others were just as beguiling as her toned bikini bod. I don’t know how we missed what an inspiration Kate’s been all along, but we’re certainly taking notice now. Enjoy the issue. 

Editor’s picks

A few things I’m coveting this week 

editors letter 12 January 2020
Timeless ladylike chic. Blouse, £69, Somerset by Alice Temperley, johnlewis.com 

v A nice pop of blue to match my denim. Earrings, £30, estellabartlett.com

editors letter 12 January 2020Officially posher than my own bed! Dog bed, £165, couvertureandthegarbstore.com