Sexism is not just damaging to women's mental health — it can hurt their physical health as well. Research has shown that
doctors take women's pain less seriously. As just one example, women with abdominal pain are forced to wait longer than men when they go to the ER. And, unfortunately, many women receive judgmental, dismissive, and downright sexist comments from doctors.
If this sounds familiar to you, keep looking until you find
a doctor who gives you nonjudgmental, compassionate care. They are out there. When you're looking for a doctor, you should consider their interpersonal skills as well as their medical qualifications, bariatric surgeon Peter LePort, MD, tells Bustle. "Can you talk to him openly and honestly? Does she listen attentively to your questions? Does he answer your questions thoroughly? Do you believe she cares about your well-being? If [they] do not check all of these boxes, it is time for you to find another doctor. These may seem like questions that belong in the 'warm and fuzzy' category, but they're no less important than those you have about a doctor's skill and outcomes."
To get an idea of
what issues women are facing within the health care system, I asked women for the most ridiculous things doctors have told them. One tweet and one Facebook post about this got me over 500 responses, so clearly, this is a major problem. Here are just a few of the responses I got.
"My birth control caused my anxiety and depression to intensify immensely, I had to leave school, I could barely leave the house. (I was never told this could happen.) Three years later, after a suicide attempt, I stopped taking the pills, and there was a night and day difference. When I asked the doctor why I wasn't told about this being a possibility, he said, 'Birth control can cause slight changes in mood,' completely dismissing the three years of hell that I endured as me being 'moody.'"
"A (male) doctor once told me that once I lost the weight I needed to lose, I might find that some of my friends wouldn't be nice to me anymore, because women get threatened when their friends are suddenly more attractive than them."
"She asked If I used contraception. I said, 'no.' She sneered and said, 'do you want to get pregnant?' I said, 'No. I sleep with women.' Then, she fumbled for words but just ignored my comment without talking to me about sexual safety with female partners."
"When I was 18 years old, I was having sex regularly with both men and women. I told my doctor I had been on the Pill before, but it wasn’t working for me, and I was honest with her when she asked questions about my habits and sex life. Upon asking my newest physician my options for birth control (I used to get them from Planned Parenthood because I did not have insurance before), she decided to tell me she does not think I should be on birth control but rather should refrain from having sex instead. I looked at her rather confused and embarrassed because I was under the impression that doctors are supposed to held you devoid of any judgment.
She proceeded to tell me that I am far too young to be engaging in this type of sexual conduct and that I should seriously reconsider my life choices and how she would be willing to offer me therapy instead of birth control. I was presumably upset before, but now I was absolutely infuriated! This woman was being very condescending because of my young age and even tried to deny my request to get a Pap smear because of it! Needless to say, I switched to a new doctor and got the treatment that I needed."
"When I was in college I had an appendicitis scare. At the hospital, the ER doc asked me if I could be pregnant. I said 'no'... and then he said that they would run a pregnancy test on me anyway — that girls usually lie about their sexual activity. I was a virgin at the time."
"'Oh, come on, this is not painful.' An elderly gynecologist while giving me a very painful Pap smear. I was bleeding afterwards. Additionally, he scared me by telling me I had a cyst on my cervix and genital herpes, none of which was true, as another doctor found out later. I never went back to that gynecologist."
"'You have an eating disorder because you weren’t breast fed as an infant.' I don’t even know, man."
"'Well, you are getting older.' I was 32."
"A (male) doctor told me I wasn’t really experiencing flank pain, despite having a documented history since childhood of kidney issues. He literally made me do some exercises in his office, told me anything I felt was muscular, and kicked me out of his office. Turned out to be kidney stones."
"'Now that you’re over 35 years old, your skin is going to be awful. There’s nothing you can do about it either. Here (writes a prescription for cream), you’re going to have to use this for the rest of your life.' Literally a week later, my skin clears up and I never have to use the cream again."
"When I was pregnant with my first child, the doctor wrote in my file, 'She's a little bigger than the average bear' when referring to my pre-pregnancy weight. Also, another doctor once asked my 'profession' and when I said I was a stay-at-home mom, he wrote 'HOUSE' in the section. These were both male doctors, of course."
"After my first son was born, I wanted an IUD. I was told by my doctor that I couldn't get one because he worked for a Catholic entity and they believe IUDs caused abortions."
"'You're cute' — my male OB/GYN during a gynecological exam."
"I went to the ER one weekend last year because I had what I suspected was a Bartolyn Cyst (a cyst on my vulva right on the entrance to the vagina) — super painful, almost impossible to sit, etc. I made the mistake of saying I suspected it was a cyst (because what would I know, right? I'm just a highly educated woman with a PhD of my own, but I am fat so obviously dumb). ER doctor told me it was a varicose vein because I'm overweight and that there was nothing that could be done but exercise. When I told her my weight was caused by steroids I was on for SLE (lupus) and that the lupus made exercise extremely painful, and asked her what I should do given this dilemma and what else I could do to reduce the pain and risk of the supposed varicose veins, she said, 'It's not my job to answer that, you need to talk to your regular doctor.' When my regular gynecologist next had an available appointment, I went to see her. She took one look at it and said 'Of course that's a cyst! You need surgery immediately' and had the surgeon calling me to book me in for emergency surgery less than a couple of hours later."
"A gynecologist told me years ago that waxing my pubic hair to look 'infantile, as they do in porn, was perpetuating the idea that it's OK for men to like underage girls.' It was weird and wrong and I never saw her again. She also made a couple of other anti-porn comments that I can't fully recall. What I remember most was being unbelievably shocked. It was in NYC; I can't imagine I was the only patient she ever saw with a Brazilian."
"1) 'I find it hard to believe you're not sexually active. Almost every woman who comes through those doors has been laid by 20.' Male GYN told me when I went in to get birth control for my horrible cramps/PMDD. So what? I was a 24-year-old virgin and he acted like there was something wrong with me! 2) 'Your birth control will make you fat. You might want to get your weight under control first.' Same guy. Same visit."
"I was 36 at the time and concerned about weight gain. My doctor said, 'You know how elderly women maybe eat half a piece of toast and then they don't want anything else to eat? I'm not saying eat half a piece of toast, but maybe you'll have to cut down to less than 900 calories a day if you want to lose weight and keep it off.' This is a) not healthy and b) IMPOSSIBLE to maintain."
"I was experiencing painfully low libido that was starting to impact my relationship, and I asked my (former) gynecologist, an older white man who wore bow-ties, about it. He told me it was nothing to worry about and was in fact a natural aspect of evolution: If women wanted to get it on all the time, they just wouldn't be able to stop having babies, you know? He then told me if I really wanted to return to wanting/enjoying sex, to try drinking a couple glasses of wine after dinner."
"When I told my new doctor that I had a history of depression and an anxiety disorder, and I thought I needed to go back on medication, he said, 'You don’t look depressed. You’re smiling, so clearly you are fine.' He refused to give me medication."
"'Are you a virgin? Because you’re very tight down there!' (Asked by ultrasound technician.)"
"At 27, I finally got up the courage to talk to my provider about antidepressants after suffering for years. He (a PA, not MD) told me that sometimes, women wake up at age 35 and find they're MORE depressed because they don't have a family, so if that's something I want, I should start working on it now so I don't wind up alone and more sad at 35. This after I had mentioned that I am 100 percent certain I don't want kids."
"When I was back home after my first year of college and getting a checkup, the GP I’d gone to my entire life (never went to a pediatrician) asked if I was sexually active. I wasn’t yet, and said as much, and she said, 'Good girl. Wait until you’re married.' She’d always seemed pretty cool so I was totally shocked; it completely destroyed my trust in her."
"I had an IUD put in and almost immediately found sex to be really painful to the point of 'could not do it at all.' I went to my doctor and explained that because of the timeline it seemed like it was because of the IUD and maybe I should have it taken out. She told me that pain with sex 'wasn't a side effect' and that I should see a sex therapist since it was probably psychological. I left the office and burst into tears. Within a few weeks, I had the IUD taken out anyway and, surprise surprise, my sex life immediately went back to normal."
“I bet you’d be a lot less depressed if we cleared up that acne.”
"The doctor had asked me if I had a boyfriend, because of course that’s relevant at all, and I said no. Later, when going through my test result, he said one of my levels was high, which is strange because you usually only see that in people on the contraceptive pill. I told him I AM on the pill (it was in my file too) and he, very confusedly, said, 'But you said you don’t have a boyfriend!' Never mind one doesn’t need a committed male partner to be sexually active, I had actually been prescribed it to help control acne, one of the MANY other reasons to take it."
"If you were a man, I would send you to the ER for pelvic pain. But you should just drink some chamomile tea and calm down."
"A (female) GP during a physical, when I mentioned my period was so painful I was having to call in sick to work/school: 'Yeah, well, periods aren’t fun for anybody.'"
"That unless I had someone coming after me with a knife, I had no reason to have generalized anxiety symptoms."
"Laughed at my birth plan and threw it into the bin."
"'You’ll need a C Section because you’re too fat ...' Two natural vaginal deliveries later... oh really?"
"After having one abortion at a young age, when I was older, I needed another one. The old male doctor told me that if I went through with it, I might never be able to have babies again."
"A male OB told me that he was sewing up my client (I'm a birth doula) 'nice and tight for her husband' after she gave birth. And winked."
Moral of the story? Doctors are human. There are bad ones, just like there are bad people. But there are also good ones, just like there are good people. If you've been unfortunate enough to encounter one of the bad ones, keep searching for the good ones until you find the right one for you.