Let’s face it: No one actually likes going to the gynecologist. The steely, prying tools and cold ultrasound jelly are pretty much what nightmares are made of. But for many women, it’s not just the invasive procedures and creepy rubber gloves that turn them off: It’s the gynecologist themselves.
This week a Reddit user anonymously revealed her first experience at the gynecologist, at age 14. The woman, who goes by carlinha1289, says she visited the doctor to ask about a burning sensation she was experiencing. She knew it could be a sign of an STD, and wanted testing. Instead, she left the office in tears.
“I skipped school to go to my appointment and when I met the doctor I grabbed all the courage I could and answers his questions honestly,” she recounted. “'I am 14, yes I am sexually active, no I do not use birth control, yes we do have unprotected sex.’"
That’s when the doctor gave her a stern look, and a rebuke she would never forget.
"You're 14, sexually active and using no protection,” he said. “Can you imagine the shame your parents would feel? Is this something you're proud of?”
Carlinha says she ran out of the office crying, and did not return to a gynecologist for 7 years.
Stories like Carlinha’s are more than just cringe-worthy horror stories: they are deterrents for women seeking crucial health care.
Studies show that women — especially young women — use gynecologists for a variety of necessary functions. One study found a large percentage of teens use their OBGYN as a reproductive specialist, general practitioner, and even mental health counselor. An emotional connection with their gynecologist is proven to keep women coming back for these essential services.
But unfortunately, negative experiences like Carlinha’s are far too common. One survey conducted in Turkey found more than 80% of women felt emotional discomfort after a gynecological examination. The problem is even more prominent for LGBTQ women, many of whom believe that revealing their sexual orientation would hinder their care.
The most common words used to describe treatment for LGBTQ women were “adequate,” “variable,” and “poor.”
Revelist asked women about their own worst experiences at the gynecologist, from the strange to the down-right horrifying. Their answers revealed a concerning trend of doctors shaming their patients, for everything from their weight to their sexual history.
Revelist has reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for comment.
Below, see what the women had to say:
“Once [my gynecologist] told me I had too many piercings and was too tan, and assumed I had many partners for those reasons … But then I told her that I was monogamous and [the tests] came out not pregnant and completely clean, and she was like ‘Then why are you here?’ And it was just for a yearly! That was the last of her.”
“I once had a gyno tell me she was surprised I was sexually active … I was probably 19 at the time and just started dating my husband (who would turn out to be the only partner I'd have intercourse with) so I asked about birth control. I'm a plus-size woman, she looked me up and down and said, ‘REALLY? Huh, ok well…' and then launched into options.”
Mandy Velez, 24:
“I switched gynecologists because I wanted a woman. She asked if i was sexually active and said yes. Thats pretty normal, but when I asked her about birth control options, namely the IUD, she gave me a weird look and said those are only for women in monogamous relationships. Her saying that because I had more than one partner made me feel awful about myself. Also, that's not even true, any woman who wants an IUD can get one.”
“The first time I ever went to a female OBGYN my step mom offered to take me to her because I was having terrible cramps and irregular periods. The initial nurse, who was about 50, told me how everything is confidential and just tell the truth — I was 15 — and then said ‘Well it's not like you're sexually active anyway.” And I said, ‘Um excuse me, yes I am. I have a serious boyfriend, I trust him, and he's he only person I've been with.’
Welp she stopped what she was doing, turned, took off her glasses and looked me up and down and said ‘You're not serious are you?’
I just stared at her and then she grabbed her stuff and left. I never felt so small in my life. After the appointment with the actual doc she wrote me a script for birth control and then she told my stepmom ‘because she should know what I was actually up to.’”
Victoria McNally, 26:
“My family gynecologist — literally the woman who helped birth me — was once talking to me about sexual health and joked that that even though she respects hers own daughter’s choices, she sometimes wished she could sew her daughter’s junk shut.”
“The first time I ever went to a gynecologist, I was in college. I was super proactive and thought I was doing everything right. I wasn't sexually active yet, but I was planning on becoming sexually active with my boyfriend, and I wanted to get on birth control first.
Well, I had a lot of anxiety that manifested as pain and tightness during the appointment. It wasn't totally unexpected — in the past I had been unable to use tampons, and actually was never able to use them/basically have anything inserted until after I became sexually active. My body just needed to get used to that whole deal.
Anyway, the gynecologist clearly didn't believe me and thought I was being a drama queen when she tried to do the initial part with her fingers and I told her it hurt and that I physically could not ‘relax’ enough for her to get more than her fingertip in. She ended the appointment there, in a massive huff, and said — and I quote — 'Well, I'll write you a birth control prescription, but I have no idea how you're going to have sex.’
Yeah... very professional and comforting. I cried the whole way home.”
“When I was living on the military base in NC with [my partner] I wanted the IUD because I wasn't ready for babies and terrible at remembering to take the pill. [My partner] was deployed at the time. I told the doc I read there was an adjustment period after the procedure and wanted to get past that and be used to it before he came home. The doc told me I should wait, so I wouldn't be tempted to try it out ‘too early’ — meaning with someone else who wasn't my husband. Motherfucker.”
“My first gynecologist (went to her three times) asked me (as she should have) if I was sexually active each time I saw her. I said yes all three times. The first time, she asked if I was in a relationship. I said yes. The second time, she asked if I was with the same partner as the year before. I said no. The third time, she asked me 'and howwww many partners do you have right now?' I never went back. Generally felt shamed because I don't think it was really any of her business what my relationship status was at any point."
"I've a had no luck with birth control my entire life because of hormonal irregularities and seriously gained a lot of weight on birth control. I expressed my concern to the nurse practitioner, and she told me ‘Birth control has nothing to do with it. You're just fat.’”
"I went to the health center at my Catholic college (which didn't do wellness exams) because I was spotting and had some pain. I was told that I probably had an STD even though I had only been with one guy who was clean. So that was horrifying! Ended up going to a Planned Parenthood and it was a UTI all along."