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.
Gallery | This entry was posted in gynecology, health, informed consent, pap test, pelvic exam, Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

263 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

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