Some of the beliefs we encounter at Pulang Lupa are wrong, but are generally harmless. Others, such as the belief that drinking soap will cure an STI, are dangerous. Last week our topic during our health sessions was on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). As we discussed prevention techniques and cures we were confronted with some funny, some disturbing and some just plain weird ideas about a range of related topics.
Drinking Soap Can Cure Sexually Transmitted Infections
One woman told us that her neighbor had gonorrhea and he cured himself of the STI with a bar of Safeguard (the brand of soap in the Philippines widely advertised as being the best defense against bacteria). He dissolved the soap, added water, and drank it. Upon hearing this, another woman said she knew of someone who did the same thing, but her friend used Tide powdered soap as it was easier to dissolve than bar soap. We were shocked to hear of this “cure” and did our best to convince the women that this exercise would not be a good idea for them to try. We explained that the chemicals in soap are toxic and not safe to ingest, but I’m not sure how successful we were at persuading them that drinking soap is not a real antidote for STIs. After all, soap cleans and kills bacteria so why shouldn’t it work on curing illnesses?
Flipping the Uterus Upside Down
When discussing the reproductive tract and contraception, several women told us that a traditional healer can twist a uterus upside down in order to prevent pregnancy. We showed the women a diagram of the reproductive system and showed why it would be difficult to simply twist a uterus upside down. Most women reconsidered the idea. Except for two who still believe this is a viable mode of contraception. And yes, they are currently pregnant.
Scraping Out Birth Control Pills from the Vagina
Some women believe that birth control pills don’t dissolve and get absorbed into a woman’s body. They believe the pills stay in the uterus and vagina and keep forming an ever growing layer of gunk. So of course if a woman is taking birth control pills she must go to a doctor at least once a year to have her uterus and vagina scraped out. To counteract this belief, we pointed out that simply dropping a birth control pill in water will dissolve it, so when pills are exposed to our saliva and digestive juices, in addition to water, there’s no way they will not dissolve. I thought that the “scraping and cleaning out process” they described sounded a bit like a pap smear, so I told them what doctors do during pap smears, and how they can benefit a woman’s health. I also urged them all to get annual pap smears, regardless of whether or not they are taking birth control pills.
Condoms Make for Smelly Penises
When we discussed condoms, one woman recounted that she knew a man who had a lot of sex and always used condoms and over time they made his penis smell bad. We described to the women what condoms are made of and how they should smell. We suggested that if perhaps the man in question was reusing his condoms or if perhaps because he had a lot of sex, that he might have picked up an STI which could have been the cause of the bad smell.
When we discussed pregnancy and breastfeeding, we heard more surprising beliefs.
Vitamins Make You Tired
Some women told us that prenatal vitamins make women who take them sleepy and tired. This perception might have come about if a pregnant woman started taking prenatal vitamins around the same time that her pregnancy started causing her body to require more rest.
Who Wants a Big Baby Anyway?
Other women believe that if you take prenatal vitamins or eat and rest too much when you’re pregnant, the baby will grow too big in your stomach and you’ll have complications with giving birth. In the US when a woman is pregnant she is encouraged to eat and rest and add a lot to her body weight. In contrast, most of the pregnant women we’ve seen in Pulang Lupa are extremely thin. I wonder if this belief might be a justification for not getting extra nutrition when pregnant simply because families cannot afford more food or vitamins, or to have a pregnant woman stop working.
Breast Milk Turning into Blood
When we discussed breast-feeding, women told us that if you leave breast milk in a bottle for longer than a few hours, it will turn into blood. They also told us that it is wrong to breastfeed naked. I still have no idea where the breast milk into blood idea might have come from. The naked breastfeeding is a bit easier to explain. All of the women in Pulang Lupa live in one (or sometimes two) room homes that house up to 8 people. There is no such thing as privacy, so of course it would be silly to breastfeed naked.
Why do people believe what they believe? Why do they trust information they receive from some people and doubt the authenticity of what others teach them? How can we correct some of the misconceptions women in our community group hold? These are some of the questions we continue to grapple with. Generally, when confronted with misinformation, we do our best to present science-based facts and help the women better understand their own bodies and bodily functions. We don’t always come away feeling like the women believed us, but we continue to do what we can and only time will tell.