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  • Charlotte John

As a sexual abuse survivor it’s really hard to answer when a medical professional asks “

“As a sexual abuse survivor, it’s really hard to answer when a medical professional ask, “What age did you become sexually active?”. I once answered…Do you mean by choice or when did people start using my body in a sexual manner”.

This is the Tweet I put out two days ago. It has been on my mind for a while, along with other things, and I just sat on my sofa before work and Tweeted the above.

That afternoon I looked at my Twitter and it took me a few moments to work out what was going on. Hundreds of comments. Over a thousand shares. I had to sit myself down to see what the hell was going on.

There were so many comments from women saying they had been asked the same or similar. Some people put down what they answered. Others spoke about how it made them feel. Some people were shocked that this question was asked.

And then there was a small minority that quite aggressively said “Well, I don’t believe that would be asked, I have never been asked that, it has never happened to me”.

I sit here now slightly shaking my head.

And…It has never happened to you or you have never been asked that question….so what? Because you have never experienced it …it never happens… give me strength.

Anyway, I have not responded to any of the hundreds of comments or debates. It has been interesting to see what people had to say and it was interesting to see that many women related to what I was saying.

It was also interesting to see the debate as to why and how such a question would be asked. I can only speak for myself and so…. for the many people that were asking why…this is my truth.

I have been asked that question (worded in different ways) twice.

When I was 30, I has a smear test. I had avoided it for some time because I knew something was not right. Now…looking back… of course I know that was stupid. But I had lost my mum 18 months earlier to Cancer. She had died of lung Cancer but had many different Cancers in her body including Cervical.

I went for the smear and it came back that I had pre-cancerous cells. I had Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). And it was grade 3. I had CIN 3. Severe abnormalities in the cervix. High Grade CIN. Pre-cancerous cells of the cervix the letter said.

I did not read any of that last paragraph that was in my letter apart from one word…Cancer.

That was the only word I could see.

I was given an appointment at the hospital for a few weeks later to have part of my cervix removed.

And in that appointment the doctor (who was very lovely by the way) asked me lots of questions about my history and part of that was…

“What age did you become sexually active?”

If you read my previous blog about this, you will know that by this point I was a crying wreck. I had two lovely nurses with me, and I was convinced they were going to find Cancer.

So, when he asked that question, I had no defences up at all. I was in a position where I do not find myself often. And so, I thought for a moment and said, “Do you mean by choice or when people started using my body in a sexual manner”.

I said this in the same factual way that he had just asked his question. There was no being defensive. I was trying to answer a medical question as well as I could to ensure I got the help I needed.

The silence was deafening. I do not think I had realised what had come out of my mouth. The doctor had stopped writing and, with one hand on his glasses was looking at me. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and one of the lovely nurses squeezed it. These nurses had already hugged me 10 minutes earlier when I had burst into tears. One of them bent down to me now. She had such kind eyes.

The doctor said that early age sexual intercourse has been associated with an increased risk of HPV – Human Papillomavirus infection and that in susceptible women is responsible for virtually all cases of invasive cervical cancer. And that is why he as asking. And then he said he did not mean to upset me

Because I was very very upset now

Because what I was hearing was that I could be more prone to cervical Cancer if sexual intercourse took place at an early age. And it did. And it was not my fault.

And I felt like I was being punished all over again.

So, I nodded and said…

6.

I have had to step away from my laptop for a moment. Because it makes a rushing noise in my ears to say it out loud as it was.

6 was my answer.

The doctor looked at the nurse, who said something to each other with no words. And my appointment continued.

The second time it was said to me was last year. I had to have my smear and I had a lovely nurse. We spoke for ages and I said that I just want it all removed. I do not want to be sacred of it ever coming back. I then spoke about is cervical cancer hereditary because my mum had it and such and she said.

“Sexual activity can play a part, what age did you become sexually active?”

Just like that. No malice. Not being intrusive. Just talking about the factors that can impact.

And I had a very similar conversation with that nurse as I did with the doctor 10 years before. She was different. She grabbed my hand and said I was a brave woman for telling her like that. That I was not to blame.

I said that I feel like I am being punished twice. Because the early sexual exposure may have caused this kind of damage to my body. And she held my hand.

And there we have it, where my Tweet came from.

Debate it as you will. That is up to you.

Those who wanted to be aggressive and say “I don’t think so…as this has never been said to me” …shut up. Seriously…just shut up.

But for us, the survivors who must face these kinds of questions…. I feel your pain. Big love

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