Have You Been Judged By Your Doctor? 14 People Weigh In On What It Feels Like To Have A Doctor Shame You
A few years ago, I decided to see a doctor about a gynecological problem I was having. It seemed like a problem any doctor could easily fix —but mere moments into my appointment, I realized my new doctor wasn't going to. Without examining me, she told me that my sudden bout of vaginal dryness (so intense that it made intercourse nigh impossible) was due to the fact that I was "getting old." I was 31. She suggested that I could fix it by no longer taking the pill and "messing with my hormones." I had no idea what to say — and in the moment, I believed her. Doctors have decades of medical training and I only have Web MD — surely they know more than I do, right?
But after mulling it over, I realized I had been doctor-judged. Maybe you've experienced this, too — a moment when a doctor acts like their medical training gives them the right to judge your non-medical life. Awareness of doctor-judging is on the rise — doctors who fat-shame are beginning to be recognized as a health threat, and a recent study found that when doctors make patients feel ashamed of themselves, it leads to worse medical outcomes. But doctor-judging is still sadly common — common enough that the New York Times thought nothing of publishing an op-ed in which a psychiatrist derided his patient for being "dowdy." Most of us are taught to take a doctor's word as gospel, and thus, very few of us ever learn to fight back when a doctor judges us. But if we know that we're not alone — and as the 14 stories below prove, we most definitely are not — maybe we can learn.
Oh, and my dry vagina? Turns out it was a yeast infection.
1. Amanda, 35
"A few years ago, I went to a new gyno because there was a change in my insurance. At first she seemed very kind and I felt comfortable with her — until she made a comment about my pubic hair (or lack there of).
Although I don't remember her exact wording, it was something to the effect that I was 'perpetuating the infantilization of women in porn' by waxing that part of my body. I was stunned... and because I was so stunned, I could only answer by apologizing. It was f*cked up and I didn't see her again."
2. Lee, 27
"Someone drugged my drink at a bar. When I woke up in the hospital, totally confused (albeit, thankfully, safe), the doctor made me lay in the bed — in a makeshift diaper — lecturing me on the dangers of drinking too much. I'd had only two drinks before ending up there."
3. Tina, 27
"I met a gyno for the first time when he was inserting my Mirena. He told me that when it runs out in five years, that's when I should have children. I was 25 at the time. There was no foreplay to that comment and I felt weird about it — and I still do, three years later."
4. Jen, 29
"About four years ago, I went to see a new general practitioner, who had some family history with my boyfriend at the time. While the visit was about stomach pains, she also asked me a handful of gynecological questions, including the number of partners I had had. At that point, the number was nine (it's 10 now).
She looked at me judgmentally and said, 'That's a lot for your age.' I was 25 at the time. Now, I understand everyone has different backgrounds and perceptions around sexual activity, but I wanted to punch her in the face. Each of those partners had been from a meaningful relationship or experience, and she had no right to judge me on my number — especially since I was just there to get my stomach checked. Needless to say, I never returned for further exams."
5. Sarah, 33
"I was going to the physical therapist after a car accident when I was about 20 and I was about 10-15 lbs overweight at the time. I'll own that. But the physical therapist WOULD NOT shut up about it, tried to sell me supplements for it every time and basically ignored the actual back injury I had from the car accident, preferring to instead lecture me about how the 10 pound weight loss would magically fix everything in my life. It made me feel awful."
6. Jake, 29
"I'm a musician, and I work a flexible part-time job that gives me time to tour and play shows. I had a bout of brutal insomnia, and went to see a new doctor to try to deal with it. During the initial appointment, I told him about my work situation, just to explain my insurance, and he said, 'Oh, that's why you can't sleep.' He said that that must be what was keeping me up (it wasn't) and 'prescribed' that I get a full-time job."
"I had sex at a young age and went to a gynecologist for the first time at 14. She said something super judgmental with every question. 'Well, how many people have you had sex with?' 'You know that's a lot for a 14-year-old, right?' And when I told her that sometimes it hurt when I had sex, she said, 'You probably have chlamydia.'
8. Valerie, 44
"I saw a gynecologist in Midtown Manhattan. When I told him before my first (and only!) examination with him that, at 38, I'd never been pregnant or had an abortion, he said, 'That's hard to believe. All women are whores.'"
9. Janine, 27
"I've come to expect doctor shaming, especially at the OBGYN, especially when I'm asked about my sexual partners or whether I'm monogamous. I think the worst time, though, was when a psychiatrist asked me about my boyfriend. I told her we had just moved in together (granted, after only a few months) and she said, 'You're living together?! After only a few months? Damn girl, be careful.' I knew she was right, but it felt totally unprofessional, especially considering I barely knew her. I felt totally embarrassed afterwards."
"I was very careful about birth control when I was a teenager and I chose to use a diaphragm as well as hormonal birth control. My gynecologist scoffed at me and tried to make me feel dumb for using both, instead of patting me on the back for being hella responsible. Her bad — It just reinforced my feeling that I should do what was right for me!"
10. Laura, 26
"My usual GP was out of town and I had moderate/severe abdominal pain. Think a kidney infection or UTI... but with a sudden onset. The physician's assistant who saw me first insinuated — based on my honest response to the 'how much/often do you drink' question, which was 10 drinks a week — that I'd gone on a bender and was hung over. Her superior somehow made an even worse and more dismissive assessment — after doing the 'press on your stomach' thing, she literally told me 'I think you're just bloated, honey. Take a Gas-X.'"
11. Diane, 25
"I went to the doctors for an annual check-up — it had been a while and I just wanted to make sure all was well. My doctor (a woman) asked me all the normal questions, and then asked about more sensitive topics like family medical history and sexual history. When she asked me if I was sexually active at the moment, I said no — I mean, it had been a VERY long winter, and I hate my dating options in NYC, but does that even matter? She looked at me like I had three heads and said, 'But you've had sex before, right?' in a very judgmental tone. It was right then that I realized I was being reverse slut-shamed!"
12. Muriel, 29
"'Oh you don't want to have kids? I doubt it. You'll change your mind, so how about we wait until you're 35 to tie your tubes.' I was 25 at the time and that remark made me want to punch my doctor. I quickly changed gynos and now I have a more supportive and open doctor."
13. Mila, 25
"When I was in my early teens, I went in to the doctor, either for a check up or because I was coming down with a cold, I can't remember. But the doctor asked me — in front of my mother — if I was sexually active. I was shocked she asked in front of my mom, and reluctantly answered that I had been before. Then I started to cry.
My mom left the room, and the doctor asked me if I hadn't told her yet. CLEARLY I hadn't, and the doctor was just like, 'Oh, well,' as I sat there crying. She showed complete disregard for her patient, in my opinion, by even asking that question in front of my mom, especially when I was too young to say I didn't want my mother in the room with me. The doctor never apologized, and offered me no guidance either on how to stay safe sexually or how to speak to my mother afterward."
14. Joey, 30
"[A doctor told me] you need to quit having so much sex."