As a sexually active woman, I have had the pleasure and displeasure to meet with many different gynaecologists for over five years now. I have found some gynaecologists’ softness and professionalism has provided comfort and wellbeing to my body and mind, while others’ robotic behaviour and either misunderstanding or forgetfulness of a woman’s anatomy has provided uncomfort, pain and even psychological damage.
As a diabetic man, my father’s digestive system suffers a lot of discomfort, specially because he loves his scotch and his rice. Once he needed some kind of rectal examination and I accompanied him to the exam in the mountains of Alajuela. I read a book in the waiting room, thinking how brave my father was, knowing the reality of a rectal exam. When he came out, he was walking with his back a little bent forward and his legs much more open than normal.
“Are you okay, dad?”
“I am good Mai, I just wished the Dr. had given me a kiss on the neck or something, at least the promise of a date…”
We both had a good laugh. My father isn’t gay, but even if he was, many men or women may feel a rectal examination as inappropriate and uncomfortable access to one’s body and sexuality (since the anus has multiple nerves that can provide pleasure).
I feel pap tests are similar to rectal examinations. Every time I am squatting down to the corner of the doctors bed and placing my legs on the foot holders, I feel my whole body become tense. As a travelling woman I have been unable to always secure access to a desired gynaecologist. In Costa Rica, there’s a wonderful man, Dr. Joaquin, who practices natural gynaecology and has a long record of fighting modern diseases with homeopathy and teachings about female hormones and their importance in balancing women’s bodies. Nonetheless, in Canada I have met no such person, natural medicine is not as accessible as in Costa Rica, in fact it can be quite expensive and time-consuming as I have been put on wait lists for up to eight months.
As any woman knows, and some men do, a woman’s vagina must be hydrated per say, that is wet, for any type of intercourse to happen smoothly. Such hydration does not happen when you are sitting with legs spread open. If anything, vulnerability dries up whatever little natural wetness your vagina had in the first place. Or at least that’s the case with my body. Regardless, I’ve interacted with gynaecologists who have barely given me the chance to sit in the corner and open my legs before the speculum is inserted into my vagina and opened to perform the pelvic exam.
Dear gynaecologist who does not give a woman proper relaxation before inserting the speculum: this not only hurts (as naturally my vagina is not hydrated enough) but you also have given me no time to breathe before it was inserted. My vagina, my body and my mind are not relaxed and thus pain and discomfort take place. I understand that this exam is important to my health, but can you understand that I am a woman? I am not asking you to give me a kiss on the cheek, or to invite me on a date, but to simply be understanding enough to provide me with time and patience. My vagina is a sacred space and must be treated with respect and love, so please consider your impatience and robotic behaviour as you continue to mistreat women and call yourself a doctor for it.
On another specific occasion, a female gynaecologist found it appropriate to reprimand me during the whole and after process of the pap test. I was coming out of a relationship in which I feared my lover had been another woman’s lover. Not only was I emotionally insecure but I feared for my bodies’ health. I had shown no symptoms of any kind, but as venereal diseases are sneaky, I scheduled an appointment with the university’s gynaecologist. Assuming that this doctor works with many young, sexually active women, and in Canada’s sexually liberating society, I found it surprising to find such a conservative and almost religious fanatic performing my exam. Not only was she ruthless and hurtful during the exam, but she also “threaten” that I may have HPV. Petrified I asked her what was in my vagina that she assumed I had such terrible disease.
“Nothing is showing, but women like yourself are constantly putting your bodies at risk,” she said.
“But how is it that you know that I have HPV?”
“I don’t know,” she finally said, “I am simply warning you of the consequences of multiple partners.”
I sat there in absolute disbelief. Not only have I never been a woman interested in multiple partners, but if I was, as a doctor it is your duty to provide advice related to medicine, not your version of morality. Specially during a pap test, where women are placed in vulnerability. The whole experience is hurtful and inappropriate towards women’s psyches and bodies. I go to see a gynaecologist to ensure my well-being, not to be reprimanded for whatever immoral actions a doctor may perceive I have done. I should come out of the gynaecologist feeling safe and in good hands, not afraid to come back and feeling like Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations on Earth.
I travelled back to my country and after confessing to my mother amongst tears that I may have HPV, my mother asked me,
“Well how does the doctor know that?”
“I don’t know, she just said I may…”
“Well any woman that has sex may have HPV, for God’s sake, we are going to Joaquin!”
Dr. Joaquin assured me, after a pleasant and appropriate pap text examination, that although my vagina needed more love (no kidding) and homeopathy to balance my hormones, I was free from HPV and any other venereal disease. He also warned me against modern doctors and their compliance with pharmaceuticals, the invention of diseases.
“Do not believe any of it,” he said, “they are not real, your body cannot and will not sustain such harmful diseases”.
While Dr. Joaquin joins the holistic, natural world of doctors, his advice promotes mental and spiritual control of your body. I advice you, if you are the kind of person that depends completely on that Ibuprofen or Advil, this is not cut out for you (I apologize).
Two weeks ago I had to revisit the university’s health clinic for my yearly pap examination, and I spent many days hoping I would run into a professional and understanding female gynaecologist (not that there aren’t many wonderful male gynaecologists out there, like Dr. Joaquin). Thankfully I did. She almost coached me through the whole process using breathing exercises, informing me of her actions before inserting the speculum and later her fingers to check for cysts in my ovaries. After the exam, she covered my legs with the blanket and I sat up and we talked. I felt comfortable, secure, and as if this woman cared about my wellbeing and not simply getting through the appointment. This woman recognized me as a woman, regardless of her status as doctor and my status as patient.
Similar to my last post, your gynaecologist status does not give you the entitlement to be rude to my body, to be judgemental of my actions however liberal or conservative they are, or to reprimand me. I am here as an adult woman and I and my body deserve respect. Do not be entitled to treat this consult as your own, because we are there to treat and speak about my body, so give my body the space, patience and time it deserves. I am a woman, and I am entrusting my most vulnerable body part to your supposed knowledge, practice and care. Be a professional, be caring and be soft in your actions, you are entering a sacred space and touching parts of my spirit.
P.S. I was questioning writing this post, as I am almost uncomfortable discussing my experiences with gynaecology practitioners. I find female bodies are discussed broadly in media through songs, porn, music videos. Such discussion constantly offends women with objectified male views and limited versions of female genitalia’s purpose in life. Diminishing women’s power of motherhood, pleasure, and sexual grandness. In a way, this post attempts to remind gynaecologists of their important purpose and the need for more professional care, care that falls out of the robotic, scientific process. It also attempts to collaborate to women’s real experiences and fights in recognizing our bodies and their magnificent traits through our reality and not the ones imposed by general society.