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A MAN’S love life is doomed due to a smelly mucus that fills his ear canal and needs constant mopping up.
Meanwhile, a woman is left with an “abdominal apron” of excess skin following gastric bypass surgery.
Yes, after a seven-year wait, TV show Embarrassing Bodies is back with a bang — and a new roster of doctors to boot.
Among the patients willing to share their most intimate issues with the nation is Sam, who needed “vampire” treatment for her vagina.
The 44-year-old, who appears in the first episode, has lichen sclerosus, an incurable and inflammatory skin condition that means sex is agony.
She has suffered pain, soreness and vaginal dryness since she was 14.
She says: “I remember it was my maths GCSE and I was really suffering. I used to get it so badly I wouldn’t want to go out.
“I couldn’t wear tampons, thongs or jeans, and then much later on holiday in 2011, I had sex and it was very painful.”
She admits “it’s not ideal to be getting your bits out on national television”, but adds, “the pros outweigh the cons”.
‘IT’S HAD A HUGE IMPACT ON MY SEX LIFE’
The no-holds-barred approach of the original Embarrassing Bodies, which ran on Channel 4 from 2007-2015, made for gripping and morbidly fascinating viewing.
And the E4 reboot is no different.
An eye-opening mix of education, entertainment and conditions that make you reach for a cushion, it gets people talking about health concerns and crucially, provides information that can save lives.
This is more important than ever post-Covid, as we reassess our health and tackle conditions we might have put on the backburner.
It can be all too easy to snigger at the thought of someone sharing their most private concerns with millions on TV, but there’s no doubt they’re helping people who might be too scared or embarrassed to seek help themselves.
It’s the reason Sam, who lives in Essex with her partner and 17-month-old child, decided to take part. She says: “I’m an open, confident person, and most people who know me know about my ‘broken vagina’, as I call it, but it did take me a while to decide whether or not to do the series.
“If I can help just one person that’s reason enough for being brave enough to do it.”
Lichen sclerosus typically causes white patches to appear on the skin, which become sore and itchy and can make the skin more prone to splitting and bleeding.
Although they can appear anywhere on the body, they are more commonly found in the genital area.
As a teenager though, Sam wasn’t sure what was wrong. “I’d have to just keep still because it was so uncomfortable, and that went on for years,” she says.
“I went to the sexual health clinic and to see doctors but was constantly told it was thrush and advised to use creams such as Canesten.”
But after suffering the agonising split for the first time on holiday in 2011, Sam became more worried.
She says: “It was embarrassing and painful. The split is similar to when you have children, which is why I couldn’t give birth naturally.
“I had to have a C-section, which I was really upset about. Obviously, it’s had a huge impact on my sex life.
I went to the sexual health clinic and to see doctors but was constantly told it was thrush and advised to use creams such as Canesten.
“I was prescribed Lidocaine to numb the area so I could have pain-free sex, but in the past I’ve gone for months without being able to have sex because it’s just too painful.
“Luckily, my partners have always been very supportive, but there have been times when I didn’t feel like a woman any more.
“It’s been soul-destroying.”
It was only after visiting a gynaecologist on Harley Street and getting a biopsy that Sam was diagnosed with lichen sclerosus. She was 34.
“I’d never heard of it before, but it was a relief to know what was wrong, and that there were other treatments,” says Sam.
Previously, she had tried steroid and oestrogen creams, but the former only made matters worse and the latter did not improve things at all.
Next, she had surgery where excess skin from her genitals was removed in the hope it would heal back stronger, but it didn’t work.
“I was very disappointed when the skin removal didn’t work,” she says. “I was hopeful it would.”
Luckily, Sam’s gynaecologist put her forward for a clinical trial.
She underwent stem cell therapy where fat was taken from her legs and injected into her vagina to promote healthier skin. She explains: “I had that done twice, in 2015 and 2017. I had to take time off work for recovery, and it was invasive.
“I’ve actually got permanent dents in my legs where they took the fat, but it did significantly improve things.”
But over the last two years, familiar symptoms began to show again, and she has started to split during sex again.
‘NO DRUGS, NO DOWN TIME, NO SIDE-EFFECTS’
So when Sam saw an advert on social media looking for people with embarrassing conditions, she clocked it as a chance to find out about new treatments.
On the show, she has a consultation with Dr Jane Leonard, one of three new doctors replacing Dr Christian Jessen, Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Pixie McKenna.
The other two are Dr Anand Patel and Dr Tosin Ajayi-Sotubo.
Dr Jane examines Sam before referring her to a Harley Street specialist, who recommends platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. Dr Jane, 38, an NHS GP and cosmetic doctor based in London, explains: “It’s basically where you take a sample of blood, spin it in a centrifuge to separate the red cells from the plasma and then inject the plasma — which is rich in essential healing agents — where it’s needed, in this instance into Sam’s vagina.”
The principle is the same as what is known as “vampire facials”, a rejuvenating cosmetic procedure favoured by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
Dr Jane says: “The science behind it is really clever. There are no drugs, no down time, no side-effects.
“It’s just using the amazing healing ability of our immune system to heal another area.”
Sam couldn’t be happier with the results.
She says: “It was a little painful, and I felt a bit swollen afterwards, but now I feel great.
“I’m wearing jeans, I’m not sore or itchy, I can have sex whenever I want. It’s just nice to know that if my symptoms do come back, there’s something I can have done, rather than thinking I’ve just got to put up with this for the rest of my life.”
WHAT IS LICHEN SCLEROSUS?
ACCORDING to the NHS, lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that causes itchy white patches on the genitals and/or other parts of the body.
These patches can be easily damaged and may bleed or hurt.
The cause is unknown but might be because the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the skin. There is no cure but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.
It affects people of all ages, including children, but is much more common in women over 50.
Lichen sclerosus increases your risk of getting cancer on your vulva, penis or anus.
The risk is low but it’s a good idea to check yourself regularly, and see a GP if you are worried.
Dr Jane applauds Sam’s bravery and honesty. She says: “Sam knew something wasn’t right and persisted.
“She’s an amazing woman.
“Obviously, the condition is really painful and sore, but it’s also affected her life on a practical level, with regards to her work, what she can wear, her sex life.
“These things might seem trivial, but they are significant reasons to get help as it’s these things that lead you to find out why the skin isn’t healing.
“And notably, non-healing skin is a risk factor for vagina (vulva) cancer and needs to be monitored by a doctor.”
Embarrassing Bodies sets out to destigmatise conditions, which means no subject is off-limits, and no ailment deemed too “unpleasant” to discuss.
In the series, we also meet a 29-year-old stay-at-home mum looking for help following gastric bypass surgery four years ago.
Although she has lost 15 stone, she tearfully explains to Dr Anand how she has been left feeling “like a monster” due to excess skin, including an “abdominal apron”, which folds over the front, and reminds her of slime.
Meanwhile, a 27-year-old former construction worker reveals to Dr Tosin how a strong-smelling mucus fills his ear canal and needs to be soaked up with cotton wool. It has left him insecure, with his ability to build relationships in tatters.
There is also a pop-up “confessional clinic” that tours cities across the UK where people can ask questions the doctors answer from the studio.
Sam knew something wasn’t right and persisted. She’s an amazing woman.
Dr Jane Leonard
Dr Jane says: “That’s really important because it’s the questions people are either too scared to ask, or think they’re wasting their doctor’s time.
“It’s about addressing things that sometimes get brushed under the carpet, and exploring the barriers that prevent people going for health-related checks.”
Soon to be famous, the GP is not fazed by the idea of getting recognised and asked for medical advice on the street.
“Most doctors are used to people asking them questions all the time,” she says.
“I’m constantly getting asked by my friends and family. So this will just be on a bigger scale.
“I’ve absolutely loved doing the show. The beautiful thing about Embarrassing Bodies is it brings subjects to the audience that wouldn’t normally be spoken about.
“And it reminds people that anything you find embarrassing, we doctors don’t.
“So please don’t find it a barrier to getting help.”
Embarrassing Bodies starts this Thursday at 9pm on E4 and All 4.