Gynecological Procedures Can Cause PTSD

yyCaptureWomen’s experiences of gynecological/obstetric procedures can be sufficiently distressing to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 500 women took part in a study about the psychological effects of vaginal exams, pap tests, and other gynecological/obstetric procedures. Of the 500 women who took part in the study, over 100 women reported their experiences as ‘very distressing’ or ‘terrifying’. Of the 100 women who reported distressing experiences, 30 were diagnosed with PTSD.

PTSD is described as a “reaction to catastrophic trauma”, and includes symptoms of flashbacks and repetitious re-experiencing of the trauma, avoidance of similar situations, and extreme distress when faced with events similar to those that caused the trauma (Menage, 1993, p. 221).

The study highlights the similarities between the after effects of rape and women’s experiences with gynecological procedures. Following rape, PTSD can result from the associated feelings of powerlessness and of being with an unsympathetic assailant, and also painful, humiliating, and/or mutilating experiences.

Similarly, the women diagnosed with PTSD as a result of gynecological procedures reported:
-a lack of information and consent related to the exam/procedure
-feelings of powerlessness
-feelings of being in an unsympathetic environment, and
-experiences of physical pain.

Some of the phrases used by the women who took part in the study to describe their experiences include:
-‘dehumanizing and painful’;
-‘degrading and distressing’;
-‘my opinions were dismissed as irrelevant’;
-‘hurting and feeling violated’;
-‘very brutal internal was excruciating’;
-‘it felt undeniably like rape’.

The study also highlighted the similarity between post-war veteran’s PTSD diagnostic scores and women’s post-gynecological procedure PTSD diagnostic scores.  Post war veterans who completed the same questionnaire as the women in the study achieved similar scores.  Menages states the “severity of the obstetric/gynecological trauma can perhaps be inferred from comparing these scores” (1993, p. 223).

There is a lack of research related to PTSD following gynecological procedures. The study quoted above was published in 1993, and there does not appear to be any follow-up research specific to gynecological procedure- related PTSD published since that time. There has been some recognition in the literature given to the trauma of pap tests experienced by women with a history of having been sexually assaulted, but the trauma caused by pap tests themselves is generally ignored.

The traumatic after effects of pap tests and other related gynecological procedures continue to go largely unrecognized by the medical community. Perhaps the consensus among clinicians is that by ignoring the issue it can continue to go unaddressed, and will not interrupt business-as-usual.


About forwomenseyesonly

Hi. My name is Sue and I am interested in promoting holistic and respectful health care.
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280 Responses to Gynecological Procedures Can Cause PTSD

  1. Elisabeth says:

    I have been avoiding doctors for years because of the fear of being forced into a pelvic exam/pap smear. Before I found this site few days ago, I thought that cervical cancer was way more common than it actually is. I thought that pap smears were just “part of being a woman,” and that I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. The thought of getting one has always made me feel uneasy, nervous, and scared. I was fortunate enough to be able to avoid getting one all this time because when I finally did go to a doctor after about 12 years (because I was uninsured) I went to a clinic that was very busy and poorly organized. But when I went I was pretty much told I had to schedule a pap smear. Reluctantly, I did. When I showed up for that appointment, I was told she didn’t have time to do it that day because they were busy, thank god. There were actually five different times I was supposed to get one done but was lucky enough to get out of it every time for some reason. But after the fifth time, I decided I wasn’t comfortable with that procedure in the first place and I never rescheduled. I haven’t been back to the doctor since. But now that I know I have a choice and that I can say no, I’m not going to be afraid of doctors anymore. I don’t know who created this site, but thank you. This site had empowered me and has given me so much information about the dangers of these exams that the medical community doesn’t want us to know. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone and that there are other women out there just like me who say no to pelvic exams/pap smear.

  2. Ally says:

    I am 17 years old and got my first pap last year when I was believed to have a bacterial infection. I am a virgin and have never been able to successfully insert a tampon, so obviously I was unnerved at the idea of a speculum inside me. Needless to say the experience was awful. We requested the smallest they had and they didn’t have nearly as small a speculum size as most do gyns do. It was immediately extremely uncomfortable and gradually progressed to THE most unbearable pain in my life- stinging, aching, bruising, burning, tearing sensations through my cervix all the way to my spine. I was sobbing an hour after the pap was over and during the pap because it was so painful. I begged the woman who was doing my pap to stop and take out the speculum, and she refused to even though I was told by my doctor that she would be sensitive and stop if I asked because she knew I was scared. The smear tested negatively for everything and we never found out what was wrong with me. The itching and irritation I had just continued and eventually stopped. A few months ago it came back but I was too terrified of going back to tell my mother to make me an appointment so I just waited it out a second time. I still can’t put a tampon in and cry even at the sight of one. I have no desire to ever have sex and am not sure if I ever will be able to. I have always wondered if something like this happened to other people and even though i wouldn’t wish it on anyone it’s very comforting to know I am not alone. Thank you so much for writing this article.

    • Diane Spero says:

      hi ally,

      i canso relate to you. my mm took to a gyn when i was 18. she didn’t know i ‘s been abused. they could not do an exam. i suffered for yrs with exam attemps. never found what my issue is, vaginimus possibly. ( spamong when pentration is attempted)
      i gave up on exams. had enough abuse fromm these drs. I am small can’t tolerate the speculum.
      I am sorry you suffered from these cruel Dr s. FGlad you are here


    • Penelope says:

      Hi Ally:

      Very sorry about what happened to you. How are you now? Are you still experiencing symptoms. If so, it sounds like you may have an infection, but one that can be cleared up by over the counter medications. If you’re not experiencing abnormal bleeding then it’s likely not cancerous or fibroids. Try the over the counter medications first. If they don’t help – I know you may not want to hear it, but go to another gyn. Please do get a female again. Just talk to her first – ask her your questions and listen to her manner with you. If you don’t like how she talks to you – then it’s a sign of how she will treat you; go to another one. Insist on a urine test and blood test and if need be, an abdominal ultrasound. That will tell you if you have anything. Nothing was ever diagnosed by feeling inside a woman’s vagina. They can skip that. The only benefit is the incentive payments to them for getting as many women as possible in the stirrups to do paps. What will diagnose is blood work, urine test, MRI, CT-Scan – and if really needed – laporoscopy through your abdomen if you had severe abdominal pain. All that other nonsense with colposcopys are just that – nonsense. And insist that they do not do a transvaginal ultrasound. It’s a modified sex-toy with the same mechanism as the abdominal ultrasound. However, on that they use a condom and gel on it before putting it inside you. An abdominal ultrasound will do just fine. It’s the same exact imaging, but from a different angle than the transvaginal.

      Please do not get a male gyn. Women get turned off of female gyn’s if they’ve had similar treatment that you’ve experienced. But, Ally, I guarantee you that going to a male will be much worse. You will feel like you’ve had a sexual experience. That will because it would be one if he does a speculum and bimanual exam – and he may insist thinking you’re naive and stupid given your young age. I don’t care how gentle he says he’ll be – that is only a “head’s up” of what he is thinking at the thought of touching your 17-year old virginal body. He can’t show it – he knows he’ll get fired and sued. Male gyns have mastered that act. Rather, it would come out with his manner if you let him touch you. Then you’ll get very confused and angry and like so many other women feel that you can’t do anything because he was “examining” you. He’ll think that all he has to do is feed you a line to make you think he has to go in there and feel for lumps or some nonsense. Sounds like a guy trying to get you to have sex, doesn’t it. Well, it’s extraordinarily similar. I’d hate for you to go through – that – refusing some bastard in a white lab coat who sweat through medical school, who is dying to be “your first.” He won’t act like it, but inside, he will be clamoring. Why insist then on having you go through that when he knows there are alternatives.

      No, go to a woman gyn. Your first test came back negative – so likely will any invasive test that they want to try. Read up on the articles here on the medical studies about pap smears being ineffective. Cervical cancer is rare, but gyn’s don’t want to tell you that as they know women and girls (who shouldn’t go near a speculum until 25….if that….) will decline the pap smears and there goes the financial gain from their suffering. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being lied to. By not providing the informed consent that this site provides, they are lying every day to get women and girls into stirrups. According to World Health Order (WHO), maybe 445,000 women GLOBALLY may get cervical cancer. Out of those 84% re in developing countries. That means maybe 71,200 women between Europe and the U.S. may get it. Considering as of 2016 there were 318 million people in the U.S. – and half are women – that makes cervical cancer extremely rare. But see if a gyn in the U.S. will tell you that. Be empowered Ally.

      Keep us posted Ally and I hope for the best for you..

      Be blessed.

  3. Allison says:

    Ally, the other women who comment on this blog may be more knowledgeable than I am and be able to give you better medical advice; But I fail to see how the hell a pap test would help diagnose a bacterial infection. I’m 25 and never had one of these perverted tests, but I always thought that they were just used to screen for cancer and other abnormalities in the cervix. What if the infection is not even in your cervix? Are your doctors THAT dumb?! 😠 Are you sure this isn’t a UTI? They can diagnose this with a urine test. Have they done any blood test at all to check for this bacterial infection they suspect you have? How about a self vaginal swab? I’ve read about those before on this blog and Women Against Stirrups

  4. Diane Spero says:

    i read this today its scary A grand jury indicted two doctors and a third person on Wednesday in an alleged scheme to perform genital mutilation on two girls from Minnesota at a Detroit-area clinic.

    Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and Attar’s wife, Farida, are charged with female genital mutilation, conspiracy and other crimes.

    The federal indictment alleges the trio tried to obstruct the investigation by telling other people to make false statement to authorities. The doctors are also accused of lying to investigators.

    Genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision or cutting, has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the United States. But the practice is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

    “This brutal practice is conducted on girls for one reason: to control them as women. FGM will not be tolerated in the United States,” said Dan Lemisch, the acting U.S. attorney in Detroit.

    Nagarwala is charged with performing genital mutilation on the two 7-year-old girls in February at a suburban Detroit clinic owned by Dr. Attar.

    Nagarwala’s attorney, Shannon Smith, denied the allegation last week, saying the doctor was performing a religious custom that didn’t involve cutting. Smith declined to comment on the indictment, which replaces criminal complaints that led to the arrest of the three suspects earlier this month.
    how many other exams did they do?

    • Evie says:

      It’s interesting that people get so emotional about Female Genital Mutilation here in Western countries, when labiaplasty — which is basically the same thing as FGM — is so popular here. The same parts of the body are cut off — vaginal lips and often part of the clitoris as well, but when it’s called labiaplasty, it’s considered normal and even teenage girls submit to these surgeries nowadays. It’s considered okay to get under the knife to please your sexual partner, but when it’s done for religious reasons, it’s suddenly called FGM and people are sent to jail for it.

      I’m obviously not saying that FGM is good, but how is it any different from letting your teenage daughter get a labiaplasty? Only difference is that doctors who perform those do not go to jail.

      • CHASUK says:

        Isn’t Labiaplasty slightly different i.e. just the labia minora, not the clitoris? Also a woman’s choice and not inflicted on her against her will by another persons decision – See link
        A labiaplasty is surgery to reduce the size of the labia minora – the flaps of skin either side of the vaginal opening. Some women consider having a labiaplasty because they don’t like the look of their labia, or because the labia cause discomfort. This is a major decision you should weigh up carefully. Occasionally, a labiaplasty may be carried out on the NHS if the vaginal lips are obviously abnormal and causing the woman distress or harming her health. The procedure involves shortening or reshaping the vaginal lips. The unwanted tissue is cut away with a scalpel or possibly a laser, and the loose edge may be stitched up with fine, dissolvable stitches. A labiaplasty is offered as cosmetic surgery or as treatment for a medical problem, with the full consent of the patient.

      • Evie says:

        CHASUK, the clitoral hood is often cut together with the labia minora. It’s extremely painful. I’ve read multiple stories from women who weren’t informed about this before they had the surgery. I’ve read about a woman who specifically instructed the doctor to not touch her clitoris during her labiaplasty, and the doctor ignored her request.

        Also, you talk about consent — it’s not consent when women are led to believe that there’s something wrong with them just because their genitals don’t look like those of a five-year-old girl. 99% of these surgeries are done for cosmetic reasons. Women are told to be ashamed of their genitals unless they look the same way they did before puberty. I don’t see how that qualifies as consent.

        And what about circumcision performed on babies? There’s no consent there, but nobody gets emotional about that and doesn’t put doctors who perform this operation in jail.

      • moo says:

        An argument like that would also be saying that waxing a bikini line is like FGM. Some doctor quacked at me that getting a pap test was like getting a bikini wax because both procedures would be done by a stranger while I was naked.

        The intention of FGM is quite different to that of labiaplasty. No surgery is without risk or pain. Gender altering surgery must be even worst yet no one protests that. Some people want it done on prepubescent children. For whatever reason, labiaplasty should not be considered “normal”. Male circumsion on children should be a crime. Adults can have done what they want.

  5. CHASUK says:

    Some very good points made Evie, thank you. Personally I don’t agree with any kind of circumcision especially on babies or young children, boy or girl, as no consent can ever be sort from a child. I agree totally that no-one should be ashamed of their bodies or how they were born, no 2 people are the same. The woman who instructed the doctor to not touch her clitoris during her labiaplasty, I do hope she sued him! I can’t even begin to imagine how painful/traumatic these procedures must be, truly awful. What is going on in this world today, it beggars belief!

    • katrehman says:

      Moo this reminds me of a woman who posted a while ago her doctor likened the smear test to be like sex! My comments was I bet the doctor is forever single!

  6. Penelope says:

    I knew it Evie. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

    Thank you for the information – the enlightenment. There is a site from a cosmetic surgeon who does these labiaplasty surgeries. He posted the naked crotches of women who’ve had it – women who, like Nikita Levy’s victims, didn’t know they were being photographed. His guise is to show that the surgery “works.” So he’s trying to say that it’s not for sexual purposes – LAUGH – what a LIE – which is why he’s not in trouble yet with his patients. Or, maybe they have re-checked the site after their surgery and “recognized” their parts. And are now too ashamed to come forward. I hope that it won’t be long before a brave patient comes forward to have those pictures taken down; may even take legal action with courage from the Nikita Levy case.

    But, I knew that labiaplasty was just another ruse to lure women with low-self esteem, vanity, and shamelessness about nudity to allow men who are not their husbands or intended lovers to touch their genitals – while under anesthesia no doubt. I didn’t know about the clitoral part, but it figures. The cosmetic surgeon likely can’t resist touching the clitoris and then cuts it off to justify it to whoever the assistant is in the operating room. Likely they have many nonconsentual pelvics in those offices by interns while the women are under anesthesia.These cosmetic surgeons really are no different than ob/gyns who lie and withhhold the truth to get women to spread their legs; they want at women’s bodies, also. Someone once stated that if a man wanted to be a predator that he wouldn’t spend thousands to go to medical school; he would just be a predator. There are unfortunately different kinds of predators. There’s no level too high or too low to stoop that a man who really wants to harm will go to. Look at the teacher who just got caught after running away with the 15 year old girl. The difference between a garden variety predator and a gyn or cosmetic surgeon is brains and opportunity to go college. After all – the parents DID want them to make something of themselves and become rich doctors – a noble profession. General practitioner, heart surgeon, pediatrician et al – not one who makes a living between women’s legs. They also make high 6 and 7 figure salaries (once they rise in the ranks) and have lucrative careers because they haven’t been found out yet (that is changing). So, to them, if they can legally touch women’s genitals for a lifetime without risking jail (that is changing) – and get paid for it – why not medical school; it sets them up for life – power, pleasure, and financial security.

    The profession USED to be MAINLY for women who have real cosmetic needs; breast reconstruction after cancer, and such. Now it’s for any woman who wants something done to compete with the beautiful women they see at work, maybe – randomly on the street – in the clubs and restaurants – on tv – in movies – in entertainment. The air-brushed – took 3 hours in make-up and spandex – after a starvation diet before a major event like the Oscars – to get them to look like that – women. Some really may need a nose job or other procedure for a deformity, but not the majority that show up in those offices. However for labiaplasty, they said that it’s for women who’ve given birth and their lady parts are all askew now. Yes, appeal to their insecurity about their bodies after birth and watch the heron go to the pool; watch the $$$$$ roll in. It’s supposed to be for those who developed so-called “abnormally” after adolescence – but really it’s for vain-shallow women who believe these predators’ lies; believing that they HAVE to have this done or they aren’t beautiful women. Do they know or not care that they are paying to be molested. I should have known that they weren’t told the truth before signing the release form and going under anesthesia; that those who’ve had it done had their clitoris’ screwed with – and are now suffering in silence; too ashamed to come forward. There’s nothing to be done to help them now. Even if so, who wants to allow yet another man doctor to touch them (and so far it’s largely male cosmetic surgeons doing these – have yet to see a woman cosmetic surgeon hang out her shingle for this). Yes, you’re right Evie – the difference between this and genital mutilation is the legal aspect and women who voluntarily get it done – as labiaplasty – but because they’ve been lied to. The world screams in outrage over children who’ve been victimized by this and take action; it’s time they start screaming over victimized women and taking action..

    Thanks again, Evie.

    Be Blessed.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I know this is an older post, but it comes up on the first page of Google results for “ptsd for medical procedures”, and I’d just like to say that having loads of pictures of speculums on a page dealing with gynecological procedure ptsd is pretty damn insensitive, I don’t know about anyone else but those things give me a hell of an anxiety reaction.

  8. Allison says:

    I agree with you, anonymous! Those things give me the exact same feelings! Somebody in my facebook friends posted a picture of a speculum; She wanted the women to send it to their male partners asking what it is, and comment their answers on her post. That s.o.b turns up in my newsfeed and boy did I become so distressed that I got physically ill.

    • Diane Spero says:

      i agree those pictures are awful. i have ptsd because of so many exam attemps.
      i ptsd any time i go to a dr which isn’t too often U S medical system has lost patient care. IT all about paper work and $$$$.
      Sp many suffer from dr ptsd and go unheard.

    • Kleigh says:

      Someone posted a speculum to my news feed last year saying emplying that woman with stds didn’t know what this is.” Like they didn’t get tested. It worked me so bad and others were going along with it and making fun of woman that” didn’t know what it was.” I unfollowed this woman. It upset me so bad.

  9. Chrissy (UK) says:

    Did any of the UK ladies see the ‘One Show’ yesterday evening? There was a ringing endorsement for more men to sign up as midwives due to the shortage of midwives in the UK. One guy said that it shouldn’t be seen as ‘women’s business’ but instead be considered ‘people’s business’. If more men become midwives, then it means women’s choices will be curtailed, with more chance of labouring women being in a position of having to have a male midwife even if they are uncomfortable with it.

    • Mint says:

      “People” don’t have babies. Women do. I would rather give birth on my kitchen floor than endure a male MW.

    • Adawells says:

      I didn’t see the One Show, but the answer to the shortage of midwives is to increase salaries and improve working conditions, so that more women will want to take up this career.
      There was a male midwife on my team during the 1990’s and he was very, very gay. I didn’t get him for either of my births. There was also a male gynaecology nurse when I was in hospital, and I have to say he was the kindest and most caring of the lot. On the other hand, my worst medical experience ever was a female doctor, very much a lesbian, who brutally assaulted me at a smear test. Absolutely couldn’t have cared less about me or baby. I’m very suspicious of men going into Obgyn jobs, but I also know from experience that women cannot be trusted either.

  10. Elizabeth (Aust) says:

    Having read a few accounts, what tends to happen, women refuse the male midwife and then someone young, shy or vulnerable ends up with the male midwife. If they’re happy for the male midwife to stand around while the female ones are run off their feet, fine, but they should never force a male midwife onto any woman.
    That means a quiet and private chat with the woman, or tick a box, not embarrassing her or putting her on the spot. It should never be assumed that a woman with a male doctor should be okay with a male midwife either…there are a lot of factors at work.
    I read a sad account online where a young couple had a male midwife forced onto them after he’d been rejected by a number of women, they said it ruined the birth, they felt distressed, not at the birth but at the presence of someone who was not welcome in the birthing suite.

  11. Gwendolyn says:

    My oncologist has examined me without a nurse on several occasions. I’m happy I had my daughters with me. This past year I chose not to go after my mamma gram. I have yet to tell my medical doctor. Felt violated.

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