Under the Speculum
“Do you see this finger?” my gynecologist asked me when I was 16, holding up his index finger. “This is no bigger than an erect penis. The examination will not hurt. You will not feel any pain, since you are sexually active.”
Flash forward to my sophomore year of college (I’m a senior now). I was sure he had seen it all—especially because of how open and honest he was with me the first time we had met—and I felt I could disclose any concern to him without any judgment. I have always been able to be 100% honest with my physicians. I had some concerns about my recent sexual activity and partners, and he was the first person I turned to.
When I went in for my consultation and expressed these concerns, I had to sit through 30 minutes of a traumatizing lecture from my doctor before the examination even began (paraphrased):
“What did you expect to happen when you’ve had so many sexual partners?”
“In these sexual encounters, had you been drinking?”
“Were you binge-drinking? What are you, an alcoholic or something?”
“I’ve only had one sexual partner for my entire life and that is my wife. Do you realize how at risk you are?”
“What - were you raped or something?”
There was no level of professionalism. All I heard was: this was your fault.
When I went to the gynecologist the first few times, I was young and scared. It took an insane amount of courage to open up about my concerns. After his questioning, all I wanted to do was turn around and leave the examination. I had never before felt so vulnerable and targeted in front of a medical professional, and I hadn’t even placed my feet in the fucking stirrups yet.
My doctor was fair to warn me of risky sexual behavior. This is true. But when that warning became condescending, it was nearly impossible for me to learn any lesson he was trying to teach. Rather than judging me for my past actions, my doctor should have led the examination from a purely physical perspective: Where was my current sexual health, and what steps could we take to make sure that I was, and continued to be, healthy? Instead, he insisted on using his purist idea of a sex life as a way to reprimand me for mine.
When we shame and discourage women for having sex lives, we’re perpetuating the same double standard that has been around for decades. We know how outdated this is, but when will it be over? Women have been taught over and over again that sex is bad, something to be ashamed of. Let’s be clear: Women with active sex lives are not immoral. Gynecologists’ offices, of all places, should know that embarrassing women in a space where they are already incredibly vulnerable only leads to more problems. These doctors’ offices need to exist as safe spaces for women.
Aside from the morality of the issue, there are plenty of reasons to hold OB/GYN’s to a higher standard. Scaring women for the sake of teaching a lesson about promiscuity can lead to unchangeable circumstances. More rapes will go unreported, more diseases may spread and more cases of cancerous infections like HPV will go undetected. I’m not asking to be rewarded for going to the doctor like I am supposed to, but I certainly shouldn’t be shamed for it.
When we approach these doctors as medical professionals, we expect that their overall goal is to care for their patient. Where is the care when women leave the OB/GYN in tears from their doctors’ bullying alone? Taking care of my physical health is only the first step. I’m asking for more than a decent bedside manner. I’m asking for a person that I confide in without the fear of harassment.
My doctor’s words still ring strong in my ears and I still question whether or not his harshness was justified. It has taken me almost two years to come to terms with what happened in that examination room, and consider returning to a physician. I know that what he has left me with will stay with me for the rest of my life, and that this should never happen to another woman. If your OB/GYN makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you should attempt to immediately seek a new physician. Taking care of your body and mind is extremely important for a healthy sex life. Know that you are not alone, and you do not have to take medical advice from anyone who looks down on you for your actions.