Psychological Harms of Pelvic Exams

There is a lack of research on the harmful psychological effects of pelvic exams.  The lack of research highlights how the harmful effects from pelvic exams have largely been ignored, or have been considered not important enough to warrant investigation.  The small amount of research that exists has mainly been conducted with the goal of addressing women’s “anxieties” with the exam, and has been done for the sole purpose of learning how to harness women’s compliance.

In spite of the lack of recognition given to the psychological harms of pelvic exams by the medical community, many of us do experience harm.  Many of the comments from women on this blog and on other sites have revealed that the psychological effects are often significant and can have a detrimental impact on our lives.  In addition, the psychological effects can be difficult to understand, clarify, and articulate.  This post is a compilation of my own and other women’s experiences of pelvic exams presented in a way that attempts to clarify an issue that warrants more attention.

Psychological Harm #1: Trauma

A woman’s first pelvic exam can be traumatizing, especially if she is unaware of the exam’s invasive nature and/or is coerced into the exam while seeing her doctor for a different reason.  In these cases the woman is unprepared and is not expecting an invasive exam to take place.  In addition, many doctors do not fully explain what the exam involves, explain the reasons for the exam, or offer the woman a choice prior to proceeding.

Here is what one woman has to say about her first pelvic exam:  It’s humiliating, degrading, and painful. The first time I had a pap smear done, I was so traumatized, I now have to take prescription Xanax to avoid having panic attacks when I get pap smears done now. And I’m only 24. How many more am I going to have to have for the rest of my life? What am I going to do when I want to have children and every doctor wants to shove his/her fingers and tools inside me? (Scared Guest)  via Women Against Stirrups – What’s your opinion on the pelvic exam/gynecology?.

Psychological Harm #2: Loss of Control

I can think of no position more vulnerable and undignified than naked with legs wide apart, feet up in stirrups, and a fully clothed doctor standing over me.  Feelings of vulnerability and a loss of control in this position are intensified when I am asymptomatic and do not wish to have a pap test/pelvic exam – but have been aggressively pressured and coerced to the point where I feel I have no choice.

Here is another woman’s thoughts on loss of control and vulnerability:  I am 21 and today i went for my first smear..UGHH i freaked out, cried and had to leave with a vicodin prescription…which is pretty straaaaight. but, the point of my frustration is that I, like you, feel as though i am being violated, and sexually assaulted. I feel overly anxious due to the vulnerability of the situation . . . Its not even like ive never had sex. it is just that i have trouble being prodded and fingered by a metal prong. (Anonymous)  via Awkward Things My Mother Never Taught Me: Just How Violating a Pap Smear Really Is….

Psychological Harm #3: Dissociation

Women have been led to believe that a pelvic exam is a vital part of their health for so long that many no longer question it, or feel they have a choice.  When a woman feels she has no choice but to undergo a violently invasive exam she will often develop a sense of detachment, or numbness, in an effort to distance herself from what is happening to her own body.

Here is what Claire T. Porter has to say:  “Closely connected with the absence of self is the dispensing of existence experienced by women… Women undergoing these procedures report a sense of nonbeing” (Raymond 1993, xv). I cannot help feeling that my body, especially the most private areas of it, has been taken away from me. This surgeon and the horny resident both assess my pubic area. Now the vision of my genitals is held in their brains. I feel I possess my sex less and less and feel them both smug in the fact that they own it. What a power trip for them. Bastards.  via Women Against Stirrups – I’m Taking Back My Pussy!.

Psychological Harm #4: Invalidation

The value women place on the privacy of their vagina is in no way reflected by many practitioners’ attitudes.  There is an expectation that we are supposed to be fine with this type of exam.  Yet have we not always been taught to keep our legs together, sit with our legs crossed, and to not let strangers touch us?  The role we are expected to assume during day to day life versus the role we are expected to adopt during a pelvic exam are vastly different.  How a pelvic exam feels and how we are told it is supposed to feel presents a gap of huge proportions.  The lack of acknowledgment for how we feel confuses us, belittles us, and invalidates us. We lose a sense of stability, trust, and safety.

Chrissy (UK) says: This all goes with the ‘get used to it, you’re a woman’ attitude, or ‘I’m a doctor and therefore entitled to see and touch your body’. I don’t know what they are taught when they are medical students, but there is no way they understand what it is like for a woman to be exposed and spreadeagled on an examination table whist they rummage around in the most intimate part of our body. I still remember my first pelvic examination. I was 17 and the (male) doctor forced my knees apart, as I wouldn’t comply with his verbal instructions to spread my legs. I felt violated – I WAS violated . . .  October 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Psychological Harm #5: Dehumanization

All women have a right to privacy and dignity, except of course when they are in the presence of a doctor.  The name assigned to the “pelvic” exam is carefully nonsexual and yet what takes place during the exam is something more intimate than most women would allow a spouse or lover to do.  It is cruel to expect women to ever become used to this type of extreme exposure, and it is inaccurate to assume women will become desensitized over time.  To expect women to get used to the exam is cruel and dehumanizing.

Yazzmyne says: . . . I also believe that these gyn exams are rape even when a woman consents to it. She may verbally and rationally agree to it, but her body screams NO and most women do not listen or respect their own bodily feelings in this context. With all the fear mongering about cancer and the fear for the exam itself, she can’t even make a rational decision (and not that it has to be a rational one, because rationality is used to justify the whole ordeal and rationalize her feelings of violation away) because the mind is locked in fear and can’t think clear anymore and this is exactly what doctors want. There are so many benefits for them to keep using the medieval pelvic exam:

to satisfy their sexual lusts
for the powertrip
for the money
and the fear this exam generates in women also keeps them traumatized, in fear, unable to think CRITICAL about the so called need for them   October 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Psychological Harm #6: Distrust

A lasting, pervasive sense of distrust is likely to form when one is violated by someone in a position of trust.  The distrust that results from negative experiences during pelvic exams can present a lasting barrier to a woman’s access to health services.  Women who are traumatized by their physician’s practices related to pelvic exams are far less likely to trust the medical system as a whole.

FerretGirl01 says: I have a terrible fear of the OB/GYN mainly because my very first pelvic exam was so traumatic. I was a virgin and it hurt so much that I cried. And even after I told the doctor to stop, she kept trying to collect the sample after telling me she would stop any time. I felt violated…scared…and I hurt so bad I had to take pain relievers. I was bleeding when I got home and discovered my “cherry” had been popped because the doctor was too rough and rushed with the exam. That made me terrified of ever getting one again . . . via Fear of Gynecological Exam – Women’s Health – MedHelp.

Psychological Harm #7: Fear

There are all kinds of fears that go along with this exam.  There is fear of the consequences of refusing, fear of the consequences of complying, and fear of the consequences of speaking out.

Anonymous says:  I’m 22 and I haven’t been to the gyno! Every time I even think about it I get so freaked out and sick. I’m not scared of being in pain – I’m scared of personal intrusion, of being on my back and not having control. Every time I think about it, it makes me feel like it would be some kind of assault, because I really **don’t want** it to happen, and going would just be me trying to get over my fears and knowing that it’s something I need to do. I’m terrified of anyone touching me when I know that I’m forcing myself to let them and that I feel so insecure and invaded. I haven’t been sexually abused . . . But I’m just SO.TERRIFIED. via extreme exam anxiety.

AVEN Member says: Doctors are always pressuring their patients to get it done, and instilling fear of cancer to those who refuse. I think they insist more on a pelvic exam than they do on quitting smoking. Yes, I am doing the ‘unspeakable’ and questioning doctors . . .  I think the procedure is inhumane. If you think I just need to suck it up, please listen. This is ranting towards people like that. People that think women just need to “suck it up” or “get over it”.  Rant on Pelvic Exams – Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

Psychological Harm #8: Despair

When women repeatedly have their way of understanding the world ignored it can lead to feelings of despair.  When their understanding of what is occurring is discounted and invalidated; when their fears, trauma, and other experiences are ignored, then their place in the world and sense of self can shift.  Women are often left with pervasive feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Anonymous says:  I got my first pap smear yesterday. I’m not a big crying type, but I cried like a baby. It was the most traumatizing experience of my life. I’m 18 and I’ve only had one partner for the year I’ve been sexually active . . . The metal “spectrum” upset me and that was bad enough. But the worst part for me, that has left me horrified and with nightmares, is what came next. Nobody told me going into this that the doctor was going to shove her hand all the way up to basically my stomach. EXCUSE ME?! Why does nobody see this as completely violating!! I cried so hard. Today being the day after, I keep reliving it and I don’t want anyone to touch me and I just feel disgusted . . . I should not be subjected to this, especially at my age I don’t think. Not to mention that I was pretty much forced to get one if I wanted birth control. That just seems wrong to me. I try to be save and prevent a child at this time and my life and what am I forced to do? Be humiliated, violated, and traumatized.   via Awkward Things My Mother Never Taught Me: Just How Violating a Pap Smear Really Is….

Elizabeth says:  On one blog a young woman was so stressed about pap tests she wanted to be knocked out…it’s shocking, she should be told to forget about it and enjoy her life – this testing has robbed so many women from the pleasure of being healthy, young and female and often takes our peace of mind, bodily privacy and dignity, damages our health and lives, destroys relationships and takes the shine off sex, especially after traumatic “treatments” and when women are unable to access the Pill without forced testing…and at age 30 if she’s worried about cc, she could test herself for HPV, but that would be too easy and make too much sense…actually doing what’s best for her, she’ll probably end up being sedated for a pap test…so depressing.  http://blogcritics.org/culture/article/unnecessary-pap-smears/comments-page-175/#comments

In conclusion I would like to say that if you find you have “anxieties” regarding pelvic exams you can take heart because, as you can see, your concerns are valid.   On a brighter note, more women are becoming aware that they have the right to informed consent for screening.  In addition there are now alternative ways to test for cervical cancer, such as the Delphi self-screener, which is available in some countries.  See Singapore – Dutch Collaboration:  http://www.delphi-bioscience.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Media%20Release_March%2026,%202012.pdf

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About forwomenseyesonly

Hi. My name is Sue and I am interested in promoting holistic and respectful health care.
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852 Responses to Psychological Harms of Pelvic Exams

  1. Kleigh says:

    I thought we were the only site that supports the right to refuse apps. I found a a blog by Dr. Joel Sherman. “Informed Vincent is misssing from Pap smears.” The comments for a breath of greasy air. Other woman are waking up. This my have been mentioned on heAr before but I had to let everyone know.

    • Kleigh says:

      I’m sorry auto correct keeps messing with my words.

    • Shelli says:

      Thank you for pointing to Joel Sherman’s article. I’ll bet he caught a great deal of flack from the medical community for that. I just posted the article to my FB page. I have posted statistics on there before about gyn “exams” etc. And I get a lot of push back. Not surprising. But if I can reach one or two people, it will be worth. I don’t know how long it will take women to accept this “pelvic exam” hoax has been nothing but systemic oppression of women and a money maker. It ma never happen with my generation; maybe my daughter’s?

      • adawells says:

        That’s what I keep thinking. Too late for me, but so worried for my daughter who is going to come in for all this crap in a few years time. I can’t sit back and do nothing. We have to do it for them.

      • Kleigh says:

        That’s great the you made others aware of Dr. Shermans bling. It might open some womans eyes about this subject.

      • Kleigh says:

        On a side note has anyone noticed more sensorship on the questioning of these exams? Especially on google searches?

      • adawells says:

        Kleigh, I’ve been looking for the MNT (Medical News Today) website which had posts going back years called something like “Low uptake of screening due to painful process”. A number of us and many other UK women had posted on here, and it seems to have disappeared.
        I also had an email reply to 2 of my posts on the NHS website which had been stuck with the moderator for weeks. They didn’t get posted, but I got a personal reply.
        Yes, I do think they are out there “clearing up” the internet. I do hope nothing happens to this site. It should go down in history as a record of women’s suffering at the hands of the medical profession.

      • Shelli says:

        I would hope no censoring is going on. The medical lobby in the US is pretty strong; I have no clue what influence they have over media and search results in the internet. I wanted to share something; I’m back in school for the second time in my life, and I’m currently taking a research class, using statistics, etc. Not my favorite thing to do, but it’s helping me learn data management, which helps me with self educating on all this medical stuff I abhor. The other day, our professor said something very simple, and very profound: Correlation does not mean causation. And she went on to say that all good research must take into account many different variables before reaching conclusions. I thought of the propaganda about CC going “down due to pap testing” or alternatively CC going back up again because women weren’t getting pap tested enough. Which is not only a blatent lie, but it’s crap. This is what the medical establishment is doing: taking “research” and reaching erroneous conclusions designed to instill fear and generate money. At our expense. All the more reason we just need to ignore it all, educate our daughters to stay in charge of their own bodies and ignore any “invitations” they receive, and just get on with our lives. My daughter is now in her 20s and I really need to talk to her about my decision to stop all this gyn nonsense, and why. I just want her to make her own informed decision about her own body and her health care.

      • Shelli says:

        When I have searched for any advocacy efforts against this medical misinformation, I have a very hard time finding anything. It took me a long time to stumble onto this site, as a matter of fact. I can’t beleive there isn’t more advocacy going on out there against this systemic harassment. There is a another forum called “Women Against Stirrips” which I haven’t looked for in a while. Are there any other groups out there? I have weighed in in other medical sites about this issue, and as I’m sure you can all imagine, I get eviscerated every time.

      • Shelli says:

        What exactly is Daily Fail? (I’m in the US; I seem to be the Lone Ranger in the US on this site. Guess that shows how far away American women are to coming to their senses.)

        Thanks, Shelli

      • Shelli says:

        https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/20eb/9f05540bc54cfb7948898f5c43649872fe9a.pdf

        Well I no sooner was bemoaning the lack of any research or advocacy in the US about pelvic exam harassment, than I did some googling and found this article. I scanned the beginning, need to read the rest. It appears to be set up in reference to some regulatory frameworks about using public aid funds in the US. This just makes me hate the medical profession even more than I already do.

      • I haven’t noticed Google myself but trying to get anything posted on Daily Fail that’s not a “smear tests save lives” post usually falls foul of the moderator.

      • Judy says:

        Shelli, the “Daily Fail” is actually the British tabloid “Daily Mail.” (dailymail.com). I think you and I are among only a few US posters here. Women against stirrups is still around, just not as active as it once was. I had seen and enjoyed your postings there from several years ago, glad you found your way here!

      • Shelli says:

        Thank you – yes, I’ve heard of Daily Mail, didn’t know it carried that nickname!

        Shelli

  2. adawells says:

    Shelli, I’ve been posting on websites that self-testing should be an option, and even the odious Jo’s Tosh is now campaigning for self-testing, however, about 2 years ago, I did get a response from a very influential professor in this field telling me that self-testing would never be a part of the British programme. I think Jo’s are pushing, because at the current rate of attrition, there won’t be anybody left in the programme if they don’t, so hopefully, this will force a rethink. I have seen one woman post that she’s postponing screening until the HPV test comes out. Might be a long wait, as it’s now been postponed until Dec 2019.
    As far as the legality issue goes, the act of sending women all these demands has become illegal in UK since 1998, but the British government introduced a new law called Section 251 which means that in the face of a national disease epidemic, the population can be sent call up letters for medical testing. I can hear you say that cervical cancer is hardly a national epidemic, so they got a “research” paper published about this time called, “The cervical cancer epidemic that screening has prevented in the UK,” J. Peto which all NHS literature refers back to and has become the sole source of “evidence” our programme is based on. It’s the one that also claims the programme saves 5,000 lives every year, and uses projections from way back to show how the UK would be swamped with cervical cancer if it wasn’t for our glorious programme. Just about all new UK research papers I’ve seen always refer back to this one paper by Peto.

    • Apocalyptic queen (UK) says:

      No wonder they get so tetchy online when we question their efficacy as it would no longer be deemed an “epidemic”! They can send as many letters out as they like, but they cannot get around the concept of consent. No consent = no test. The power really is in women’s hands but the lengths the screening authorities are going to to cling onto its survival is worrying. What will happen when the attendance level fall far below the threshold? Will they eventually and reluctantly concede defeat? Or are we looking at draconian methods such as compulsory call-ups to reinvigorate the screening programme. I thought primary HPV testing would change the direction of this programme but I seem to be wrong. The NHS/ Whoever really is determined to make sure screening survives at all costs. The good news is that so far, younger women are resisting these efforts as the numbers are dropping further and further every year.

      • adawells says:

        Hopefully the figures will fall under the 70% viable threshold about next March, which is why we can expect a whole vomit load of pink propaganda being aired at this time, including the new Channel 4 biopic of Jade Goody, which is in production at the moment. Yes it’s the 10 year anniversary of her death, so expect it to be everywhere. Pleased to see a lot of people posting what an ignorant, racist bully she was, so hopefully the passing of the years will have allowed people to turn more against her and it won’t get the support they are expecting it to.

    • Apocalyptic queen (UK) says:

      Ada – Channel 4?! Hardly anyone watches that tosh anymore.

  3. Rose Dalstenne says:

    from what I was reading Ms Goody seems to have had high risk problems from the start and had treatment before she went intoo the original big bore house. for abnormal cells etc. Then why oh why did this wonderous intrusive test not go on to save her like they are screaming out. Because she is the perfect icon to bully women into these unreliable tests.

  4. Elizabeth (Aust) says:

    Jade Goody had adenocarcinoma of the cervix, this type of cc is usually missed by smear testing but that doesn’t stop these programs from using these cases to sell smear tests. It’s considered fine to mislead women in this way. It may be women have passed away or ended up having a hysterectomy because they relied on a false negative smear test.
    When you lie to women, the focus is the program…not the welfare of women.
    Goody also had treatment for abnormal cells at 16 or so…a teenager should never be pap tested in the first place. There’s no doubt in my mind she was over-treated. I recall Goody saying that early experience traumatized her. Pretty shocking that they still intend to lie and use Jade Goody to sell smears…ten years after her death.

  5. Apocalyptic queen (UK) says:

    I tend to avoid this issue a lot (which is why I have not posted on here for a while. It isn’t the fabulous community and the contributors I avoud, it’s the whole screening agenda). It just riles me up to such an extent that I feel I need to forget about it for a while as I made the decision long ago that screening would never be a part of my life.
    However, after a period of relative calm, I’ve noticed a mini-avalanche of “awareness” surrounding this issue, and it reminds me that there is more work to be done.
    The key is informing women to allow them to make their own decisions, I think and to encourage them to stand firm should they wish to refuse testing. I still post online whenever I can (especially the Daily Fail), and the number of supportive comments and upvotes increase every time I go on there. I recall an article they posted around two years ago which even illuminated the problems with cervical screening, so bit by bit, the enthusiasm is cooling.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking of more ways to highlight informed consent. The rights of women in the context of inappropriate touching has been very prominent of late a la the #MeToo campaign. Women are entering further education like never before and they all have access to information about screening via the internet. Surely, you’d think that doctors would be aware that more women are aware that they can refuse this test.

    Spurred on by a recent experience with my GP, I’m contemplating writing to my practice, reminding them of their legal obligations to adhere to informed consent and telling them that a great many of my female friends and relatives are on their books, so if I am made aware of any potential coercion falling foul of the law, I will be encouraging them to take matters further.
    I’m not sure what to make of this. Not saying it will at all be useful but it’s grounded in the theory that nurses and doctors might be a little more cautious in adopting high-pressure tactics in the current climate, as opposed to the eighties and nineties when they operated without license.
    I might be tempted to write further to other practices reminding them of their legal obligations to respect informed consent.

    I don’t like thinking that any of these places might enjoy a spike in screening numbers due to pressure tactics, so just throwing that idea out there.

    Goid grief, I hate these people.

    • Shelli says:

      I appreciate your words. And that informed consent must include the indisputable scientifically validated data that cervical cancer is rare, and other occurrences of illness and death in women are much more prevalent, and should be focused on instead. And yes, in the end, it’s our choice, which is to be accepted with no arguing.

  6. Rose Dalstenne says:

    also reading on this further she also had further testing which came in clear , a large tumour was then acually missed by the hospital which goes to prove how unreliable these tests are. It seems that her widower is also being an antagonist in these matters stating she never went to the follow up appointments ???? I agree wholehartidly that these screening programmes are not contusive to womens health but no more than a sales tactic. I used to work in a call center selling insurance and were always told to push the benefits and any disadvantages placed on the back burner foir the buyer to figure out themselves when too late. Same with the screeing programme push and push the possitives and all the negatives pushed away so they can get maximum slaes figures.

  7. Eva says:

    Hi everyone. I’m in the US and i’ve followed FWEO for many years. I am so thankful for this site. It has given me piece of mind (i was right!), and helped me advocate for myself on more then one occasion.
    My mom pressured me to have my first pap at 17 when it was suggested by the doctor. It led to repeat paps and colposcopy. HPV+ Everything you would expect to happen when testing a 17 year old! Life events caused my mom to lose her insurance and i moved out and put all that stuff behind me. Luckily i got out of there before any treatment was recommended.
    Fast forward 6 years and i was pregnant with my first. Without consent or discussion, it was just sprung on me at my first prenatal appointment. The whole thing rubbed me the wrong way and made me feel gross. I already was dreading all the poking and prodding that’s deemed acceptable when you’re pregnant. The only good thing to come out of it was a normal pap and HPV- result. Proof!
    I started reading articles and comments here and i felt not crazy, and more confident in my choice to screen, or not screen. I am not reckless or immature. I’ve gone on to have another by baby and been prescribed birth control, all while standing my ground and having my decisions respectfully honored. I love this site and all the women who share stories and information here. Thank you

    • Kleigh says:

      Hi Eva, I’m in my 39snow and have avoided doctors and my last pelvic exam was 17. Now I’m thinking if I do choose to get pregnant I will absolutely refuse the Pap smear. They can do the transvaginal ultra sound. But I want nothing to do. With the psp. I plane to flat out refuse that. I hate how it’s standard of care hear in the US prenatal care. Do you think they we’ll work with me on that. I will be prepared for a fight and walking out on them if not. From my reading other countries will never do paps on pregnant woman . So it blows my mind it’s part of pregnancy care hear in the states. I am not a robot and whould feel raped if I let them back me into one. Any advice whould be appreciated. I hate to say but I whould conceder Abortion to get out of forced paps.

  8. Kleigh says:

    Sorry I meant to say I’m in my 30s.

  9. LadyNeuroscientist says:

    Hi everyone, haven’t posted on here for a while. Something is really bothering me so I thought I’d share it on here as you will almost certainly understand my frustration. Lately on my Facebook news feed, I’ve been getting nothing but pro-smear test posts being shoved in my face. There’s all of these messages urging women to get their Paps done, someone has created a petition to get the age in my country (UK) lowered. It’s all kicking off! I understand that my female friends are, in their minds, trying to spread awareness and get women “checked out for their own good” but honestly, after chatting with ya’ll and doing research for myself and realising how fallacious the whole thing is, and how there’s so much brainwashing and so many women being forced into spreading their legs and being violated, I just feel sick seeing all that crap in my news feed. Is anyone else here suddenly seeing all of these pro-pap smear posts or is it just me? There seems to be an explosion of them.

    • Shelli says:

      Hi Lady Neuroscientist – I am in the US, and I am aware of this funded program in UK which harasses women into getting Pap tests, lest their funding be pulled. I was shocked at hearing this, as it seemed like such an American thing to do. Medicine is nothing but a commercial money making endeavor here. I do see quite a lot of “articles” that appear on my Facebook feed about “Women’s Health” which all nauseate me no end. I have tried to educate women, but my audience has mostly been middle aged, and they don’t want to hear it. In fact they get really angry at me. They have been successfully conditioned to believe that their bits are dangerous and will eventually kill them. Maybe we need to start with teaching people how to do some basic research? It’s not hard, once we have the tools. That way women can look at some very real numbers and make their own informed decision. I go to credible sources like the Center for Disease Control, which doesn’t proselytize – it just reports hard numbers. The World Health Organization is a decent source, too. University studies can also be interesting sources, although you have to check where their grant money comes from, and their testing methods. And maybe the best bet is trying to reach younger women, who haven’t been subject to that conditioning yet. Although they’ll likely get an earful from their mothers. In which case there needs to be a campaign on assertiveness training, so young women can tell their moms to get out of their vajayjays.

  10. linda says:

    Hi. I haven’t come across this as I don’t do Facebook.

    The powers that be are trying hard to ‘ensnare’ young women into the programme as numbers attending their ‘invitations’ are in freefall.

    They have taken to social media to get their message over as this is where most people hang out these days. I think most young women are aware of the pitfalls of screening and will ignore this latest campaign.

  11. Emily says:

    Sorry I’m a bit late to the game here! I have a serious problem that hasn’t let me sleep at night for a couple of weeks now…warning this will be a rather TMI-filled post, but I need help.

    I have PTSD (diagnosed two months ago, but I had been showing symptoms for a long time) from being abused as a child. The abuse involved doctors but most of it was not sexual in any way. However I have a strong distaste for doctors and avoid them whenever possible. I am about to graduate from a very good college with a biology degree, so I usually know what is going on with my body, and I don’t feel like I need routine care—I am an athlete, eat a lot of organic food, you get the idea. Also for reference I’m a 21 year old virgin.

    One complication of PTSD that a lot of people don’t know about is very very very severe menstrual pain…in the absence of any diagnosable pathology. I have severe bleeding issues (have had for three years, when PTSD symptoms first started) involving extreme shooting pains, chunks of my flesh ripping out, and bloating to the point that I look like I am three months pregnant. It keeps getting worse, and people have started noticing and commenting when I suddenly scream and fall to the ground in pain. One of my friends, also with PTSD, had the same thing, was put on like ten different drugs, told she had endo…they did the laparoscopy and found NOTHING. There is no diagnosis that can be given; the problems arise from a system of cranial nerves that extends towards the gut.

    I cannot tolerate pills (even Tylenol gives me side effects) and from what I’ve read about endometrial ablation, it doesn’t work in the long run. So of course the only solution…would be a hysterectomy. I’m fine with that; I don’t want kids. I have also located very specialized surgeons—some of the best in the country—who take my health insurance. I started making some phone calls today to get registered as a “new patient.”

    I told the receptionist that I did NOT want an exam but only wanted to speak to the doctor regarding potential surgery options. The receptionist literally said she could schedule me, but did not know what would in reality go down in the exam room. Not reassuring.

    What I envision will happen: I will refuse an “exam,” and the doctor will refuse to help actually treat my condition (ie, conduct a surgery which, being solely through my abdomen, should not require shoving anything up my vagina). Im afraid I will 1. Have a panic attack, like last time or 2. Sprint out of the hospital, like last time, or 3. Not receive care I actually need and stay in pain indefinitely.

    Any suggestions from someone with slightly more experience?

    • linda says:

      Hi Emily.

      I’m not a doctor so i can’t really cant help with your symptoms. However i do know you have the right to refuse any intimate examinations you dont want.

      What you are up against is a medical mind set that believes it has the right to do anything it wants to us.

      If you go for a consult you will have to be very ‘firm’ with them.

      You could take a wait and see approach. When you are young like you are, we very often panic when something doesn’t appear right and go rushing off to the docs. Most docs have no clue themselves and take a wait and see approach also. Or send you off for further investigations.

      Often the body will heal itself but few dare to chance waiting.

      I would explore other ways of healing yourself first. Ie. the internet then try herbal remedies. Or go to a pharmacy and ask there.

      Sometimes there’s no getting round the fact you may need to visit a GP. Be firm and don’t take any nonsense. Many GP’s think getting into your private place is a game that they must win and they will wear you down til they do.

      Stand firm get the medical care you want.

      Best wishes

      X

  12. LadyNeuroscientist says:

    Oh no, I feel really sick…

    An abdominal ultrasound has been arranged for me to check all of my organs and including my female reproductive organs because I’ve been having weird symptoms lately. Well I have just got the letter through and guess what the hell is on there?

    It says I will be offered a transvaginal ultrasound!! I have nearly had a full blown panic. I know it says I will be “offered” so I can decline and I swear I’m freaking declining. I am no way spreading my legs and having some probe stuck into me when the scan can be done just externally and show the ovaries and everything just fine.

    I nearly cried when I read that letter. I dont want to be over-dramatic but my god, I didn’t think it would say that. I thought it was purely external and that’s it….. 😰

    • Apocalyptic queen (UK) says:

      Highlight the bit where it states “offered”. Underline it to make your point, and take the letter with you.

      If possible, get them to focus and do the external scan first. Say that you want that done first and will discuss the transvaginal scan afterwards.

      Hopefully, they’ll oblige thinkibg that you will just go along with the transvaginal one.

      Then when the external one’s done, say thanks, but no thanks to the transvaginal. Show the letter to make the point.

      Be prepared to tell them that legally, you are entitled to refuse it. Say you know it’s recommended, rather than “required”.

      In these sorts of situations, I always use certain “buzzwords” to alert them to the fact that I know what I’m talking about, and moreover, that I’m aware of my rights.

      I always say, “I’ve made an informed decision”. In my experience (though I live in the UK), they back down. Buzzwords like, “I’m not legally required to submit to this”, “I do not consent to this procedure” etc should put them on guard.

      You can also use body language to emphasise the point. Sit-up, cross your arms, stand up, gather your belongings together to leave and speak calmly and firmly (I’ve found that I have done these things subconsciously without even realising). If they harp on like fishwives, say, “I’ve made my decision” or “I don’t feel there is anything further to discuss – thank you”.
      Stay polite and keep it short and sweet. Do not get into a discussion with them as they’ll keep it going as long as they can. A firm response means the conversation is (usually) stopped in its tracks. I have always found this the best way to communicate with doctors – especially men.

      It’s hard and extremely daunting but you can do it and you will feel so much better for doing it. I wish you luck!

      • Ladyneuroscientist says:

        Thank you so much for your advice! It is much appreciated. I have felt so shit today after seeing that on the letter. I will be polite but firm with them and let them know I’m not comfortable with the whole thing. I didn’t sign up for a wand with a condom on it being put into me, This whole thing was about an ABDOMINAL scan. The doctor never warned me I would be “offered” a vag scan.

    • adawells says:

      Had the same shit in 2013. I’m in UK.
      I had a referral for postmenopausal bleeding and thought the ultrasound would be the abdominal one that I had when I was pregnant, so I was not altogether too upset about going. The bitch of a doctor of mine didn’t warn me about anything else, and it was only when I got to the hospital that I realised it takes place in a pitch dark room where you can’t see anything that’s going on. I had never even heard of such a thing as a transvaginal one. I thought just how big is this darn thing? Gyno saw look of horror on my face as he tried to describe it, and said they put a condom on it.
      I’d heard enough. The symptoms had cleared for a while so I picked up my bag and legged it.
      Unfortunately I had further bleeding weeks later and had to go back, but this time I was referred to a lovely lady, who had clearly had experience and training with assault victims. These specialists do exist. It was not painful and not as big as a man’s penis. I asked her why I couldn’t just have the abdominal one and she said they can’t get right down to the lower cervical area with those ones. Can you ask why they need to get so low down if your problems might not be there. Can you say you’ve been assaulted in the past and ask to see someone for a more sensitive appointment?

      • Shelli says:

        Hi Emily and the two other ladies – Emily, my first thought when you described your fear of having a panic attack/running out of the building during the Dr. appointment was can you take someone with a strong assertive personality with you? Might you have any assertive guy friends? I once had an issue with an unpleasant arrogant male rheumatologist and for my second visit, I had my husband come with me. It definitely had a chilling effect on the dr. If that is not an option, I would search for female surgeons, and then call their offices and ask the staff if she has had trauma training. They’ll probably say “I don’t know” in which case ask them to have a nurse call you with the information. And when you do go for your visit, don’t undress, keep your coat on, keep your handbag and car keys in your lap, and be ready to walk if she cops an attitude. Your request for hysterectomy isn’t urgent, and you can take your time with this. Transvag ultrasound is weird. I’ve had it done twice. I don’t like it one bit. The attitude of the technician goes a long way to set the tone. A good tech will keep you covered; they have zero need to look at anything but the screen. They allow you to insert the wand yourself, and then they reach under the sheet so you can pass it off to them. It’s understandable that someone would not want to do this. I would bring the “offer letter” and as others suggested, underline “offered” and write in next to it “DECLINED.” Red ink. All caps. And if they harass you, leave.

      • adawells says:

        Great suggestions Shelli.

      • Ladyneuroscientist says:

        You see that’s the weird thing…I believe my symptoms may be due to my thyroid or some other issue (I actually have most of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid) which can cause period problems and also stomach issues as well as many other things. There’s hardly anything to suggest symptom-wise that I have a problem with my female health except just the irregular, lighter menstrual cycle (which can have many causes.) Not sure why they are straight away talking about sticking a probe into my nether region, seems a little fast to me. I was going to tell the doctor about my concerns regarding my thyroid but you’re apparently only allowed to talk about one specific issue now at the doc appointments (that’s what they seem to only allow you to do, they seem to be eager to get rid of you a lot of the time…) so I had to just focus on my stomach and the doc asked me about my periods and that’s when I told her about all that. I don’t know, it gives me anxiety to be completely honest. I’m just gonna have to go through with the abdominal scan and tell them that I’m not comfortable about having the transvaginal one.

        I will be booking another appointment in the New Year to discuss my thyroid concerns if I’m still getting symptoms and nothing shows up on the scan which I don’t think it will (hopefully not!!!)

      • adawells says:

        Hopefully they will get all they need from the abdominal scan. Seeing as they can get quite low down with it, I don’t see why they should change if you’re not happy about it. Best wishes.🤗

  13. Shelli says:

    Hi everyone, not a post about “women’s health” (RME) but I had an appointment yesterday with another specialist, and their attitude irked me. She spoke to me like I was 3 years old; kept patting me; etc. It’s this damned patriarchal, dominant white male paradigm that pervades this industry. I try to communicate to them that I am the client, and they are the provider of a service. As I’m the client, it’s my money and they are here to serve me on my terms. This is a business transaction. I never undress, regardless of what the nurse says to do. When the doc enters the room, I stand up to my full Height. I look them in the eye. I reach out and shake their hand. This is business. If it’s a male doc, I squeeze the crap out of their hand. If they seat them selves, I seat myself. I will not sit while they stand and look down on me. I speak in a firm clear voice. I probably get talked about when I leave – “She was so pushy! What a b*tch!” I wish more people would start acting this way in the presence of med personnel. So many people just blindly do things in a doc office that they’re told. And sit there like meek children in their presence. We need to think “accountant” “attorney” “electrician” when consulting with med staff. They are consultants. We need to start dismantling this overarching patriarchal attitude, which spills over into the women’s health arena. And a lot of that starts with our collective attitude and pushing back. I am never impolite. But I am firm. Thoughts?

    • Mint says:

      I always stand up and shake the hand of any person I meet. I’m very tall and I usually look down on them. This helps of course if I’m feeling particularly prickly and confrontational. If any doctor started to talk to me like a child or patted me, I would remind them that I am an educated woman and I do not appreciate their patronising tone and that they do not have my consent to touch me. I am the client. They are providing a service. My builder wouldn’t pat my knee, as it could be classed as a sexual assault. Why do doctors think it ok for them to do it?

    • Apocalyptic queen (UK) says:

      What’s striking is that doctors both male and female (the females are operating within a paternal paradigm), are very attuned to female psychology. They know that pressure tactics such as, “you must”, “you should”, or “you’re required” often works. If not, it’s, “you’re irresponsible”, “think of your family”, “this could save your life”. They know that pressure and guilt-tripping women works.

      As women, most of us are not so good at reading theirs. I feel in order to get them to take the hint, we need to communicate to them in a language that they understand. So I certainly agree that we should all be treating this as a business transaction. That means no explaining why you don’t want screening, no display of emotion, no submission to guilt-tripping tactitcs or coercive language. Knowing that GPs are collecting data at every opportunity, I always try to tell them as little as possible (unless it’s related to symptoms for an on-going condition), and no opening up. These people are not friends, they are not to be trusted and if you were to get into a discussion with them about screening, they’d twist whatever you say to imply that you’re “scared” or misinformed and come up with innovative suggestions to overcome barriers to screening.
      You only need give very brief responses and NO explanations.

      If I ever get a blank (which happens a lot), I at least remember to say I’ve made an informed decision not to screen, and if the harping continues, I’ll make sure to mention that by law, I can refuse any medical procedure or treatment. That should at least be the point where alarm bells ring and they back off!

  14. Shelli says:

    Thank you, Apocalyptic Queen, for your wise words. You are so correct. Maintain distance, reveal nothing. I have actually thought of coming right out and saying “You have been educated under a patriarchal dominant white male paradigm.” And then fall silent and let them sit there trying to wrap their brain around that. Their eyes would glaze over! I haven’t don’t that yet, but I think if I ever were harassed, I’d be tempted. I think I would also be tempted to say “My money. My body. My boundaries.” Don’t you all in the UK pay hefty taxes that fund the NHS? Telling them it’s your money reinforces the idea that this is just a business transaction. We are purchasing a service. And “My body, my boundaries” communicates that they do NOT get access to our private areas, and that we regard such harasssment about our private body parts tantamount to sexual assault. These medical morons want us to believe that medical “procedures” in our private parts is non sexual. Bullsh*t. We do not distinguish between gyn and sex offender.

  15. Dawn says:

    * Yours was 1 of the articles I found once I finally decided to find out if other women felt the same way. Thank You

    12/1/18
    Today was going to be just another typical day. I had an audition, then a five hour photo shoot. At the audition office, I patiently waited to be called in, knowing I had to be on set in 20 minutes. Finally, they called me in, I sat in front of the camera. The director and her other female assistant explained the purpose of the spot. They were trying to destigmatize the embarrassment of female issues such as periods and their symptoms, leaky bladders, and more. The profits from the sales of the product would partly be used to donate feminine products to women and young ladies who don’t have access to them, and consequently miss school and/or work. I was handed a script and told to read whichever spot spoke to me. One of them basically described how I’ve felt on and off for several years, but constantly these past several months.
    It said something like this:

    My body is hiding a secret. I’m constantly trying to “fix” it. I am not a problem, My body is not broken.

    I read this to camera over and over because I couldn’t get it out smoothly. After starting to internalize what I was repeating out loud, really to myself, I lost it again. The tears started pouring, I briefly explained what I’d been struggling with to the director. The two women were very comforting, and patently waited for me to finish my audition until I was satisfied. But for my reaction to really make sense, I would’ve had to start from the beginning.

    When I was 19, I went in for my first pelvic exam at the Student Health Center, CSUN. I was nervous, but didn’t really think anything of it since I knew it was routine and hadn’t heard much about it. My doctor barely looked at me while she asked the routine questions and wrote in her notes. As I laid face up, feet in stirrups, my naked bottom half spread eagle in a stranger’s face, I tried not to look at the gigantic plastic speculum waiting on the tray next to me. The doctor told me when she was inserting it, and told me to relax. I concentrated on doing just that. She then forced the speculum inside of me and condescendingly said “It’s just gonna hurt more if you tighten.”

    I froze. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t breathe, talk, or move any part of body. The insertion, opening, and swabbing of my cervix with a long Q-tip probably took 60 seconds or less, but it felt like an eternity. When she finally removed the speculum I just quietly waited for her to leave the room. The second I was alone I started bawling. I struggled to get my clothes back on because I still had the feeling of being paralyzed for some reason. It was like trying to run during a nightmare, but you end up moving only in slow motion. I didn’t want to be in that room a second longer, but I also wasn’t ready to face the world outside. There was no safe space to gather myself and be comfortable again. After the appointment, I think I went back to my dorm and got in bed. I was sore for at least another 24 hours.

    6 years later I found myself having vaginal discomfort. I didn’t have a primary care doctor so I went to Planned Parenthood. As soon as this doctor told me she would have to do an internal pelvic exam, I completeley lost it. However, after explaining my past experience she was very understanding, cracked jokes trying to ease my nerves, and found an extremley small “Vienna sausage” speculum, as she called it. I finished the exam, got antibiotics for a bacterial infection from reception, went to my car and called my best friend, all the while, still sobbing.

    I am now 36 years old. Seeing photos of speculums freaks me out, thinking about even calling to make an appointment for a pelvic exam makes my eyes water. Just my luck, this past year was plagued with chronic UTIs and other vaginal health issues. I’ve seen so many doctors, but no one can seem to fix the problem longterm. I avoided it as much as I could, but eventually agreed to get a proper pelvic exam.
    A nurse I’d seen prior advised my current doctor that I’d probably need a sedative in order to do the exam. Well, she didn’t believe her. I had a feeling that she wouldn’t, so I took half of a “special” brownie before the appointment. Then, the time came for the exam. The doctor gently started to insert the speculum, I concentrated on breathing deeply and relaxing, but my maximum pain tolerance had been reached. She told me to let her know when she could start to open the speculum. What?! The idea of this foreign object inside me opening even MORE broke me. I started crying out of pain and frustration. “Are you okay?” She said. “No.”
    So, I’d have to wait two more months to be put under anesthesia on an operating table, just to get a pelvic exam. By this time I had been dealing on and off with an uncomfortable vagina for about 7months. I was so over it. Even though my partner at the time was completely understanding and patient, I was not. I pushed him away a few times. I felt guilty for not wanting to share myself with him and not having the desire to be intimate at all. This whole thing was making me insecure and depressed at times. I wanted to isolate myself from everyone including my favorite person to spend time with. I thought he should be with a woman, with a “normal” vagina. Really, I had to train my brain to stop putting pressure on myself.
    Anyway, last Monday was the big day. I had to get a blood test, wait in a bed about 6 hours with a painful IV needle sticking out my hand, just for a super simple exam. As I laid face up on the hospital bed, once again, the nurse pushed me down the hallway. I thought to myself how rediculous it was that I couldn’t do something so simple. A billion women do this everyday! What’s wrong with me?! Finally they rolled me past the huge doors that read “SURGERY ROOM” in big red letters. I laid in the middle of the operating room while nurses bustled around me, staring up at the oversized surgery lights hovering above me. I had frozen again. It was also the first time I’d ever heard my pulse on a monitor, which made me even more nervous. Finally, my IV was connected so I could start to fall asleep. However, there were air bubbles in my IV tube which triggered an exploding vein sensation at the injection site in my hand. That shit hurt! It repeated with every drop. Once again, I lost it. The tears and sobbing started. A nurse stood over me trying to calm me down, caressing the sides of my face. Then, I guess, I was out.
    I woke up feeling perfectly fine. No soreness, except for the pain in my hand which lasted about 5 days.

    So, what is my problem? I have to wait 3weeks to hear if I had any abnormal test results. But, what’s my “mechanical” problem? Well, one day I Googled. It’s funny how finding out you’re not the only person experiencing something can be so comforting. I read several stories from women experiencing the same emotional and physical trauma I have when it comes to pelvic exams. Several women take prescription sedatives before, there was even a case of someone passing out during an exam. A couple women talked about the long frustrating process of finally being diagnosed with Vaginismus, the involuntary tightening of the vagina. My doctor suggested that I might have this.

    So, why don’t we hear about the struggles of Pelvic exams, when its obviously a common traumatizing experience? We’re made to think that we should be perfectly fine laying spread eagle in a cold uncomfortable room, naked, with a stranger’s face in our crotches pushing a large plastic device into the most sensitive part of our bodies. Oh yeah, then they have to expand that device inside of you and swipe your insides with q-tips. WTH!!! That’s not normal, of course it’s traumatizing.

    Anyway, I kept thinking of those lines I had to say to myself out loud repeatedly today, and on camera. Even though I’ve said these things to other loved ones when trying to encourage them, I had never said them to myself.

    No one should feel flawed for NOT being ok with being touched in an undesirable way. So many doctors made me feel like there was something wrong with me! I’m still learning that there are ALWAYS other people going through the same thing, no matter how alienated you feel in your specific struggle. And of course, all of us will have health challenges at some point, that doesn’t make us less valuable people when that time comes. Our bodies can bring challenges and frustrations, but they are a part of us. They need appreciation and care. Don’t ignore them, or be angry. Be patient. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with YOU, you’re not a freak, an inconvenience, or a problem.

  16. Shelli says:

    This is so beautifully written, Dawn. Thank you for sharing such a painful story. Women have been pathologized for years just for having female reproductive organs. If you are a female, then you must find yourself a gyn and submit to repeated analysis between your legs to “make sure everything is alright.” ???? Why would it not be OK??? There is a huge range of “normal.” There is nothing about being female that carries an inherent pathology!! I really loved the phrases that you recited for the ad you were filming. Further, women have been told that there is something wrong with them if they don’t want instruments rammed up them! Even women tell other women that. Well the truth is that there is something very wrong with women who just lay there with their legs open thinking that there is anything remotely normal about being ogled and felt up. That whole ugly business of “pelvic exams” is nothing but legal sexual assault, and intelligent, educated women (such as all of us here who bother to THINK, and SELF EDUCATE) know that there is no normalizing of this assault on our bodies.

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