“Oh, it concerns this area of your body? That I don’t feel comfortable with!”
Reading this statement you might think the doctor I was talking to was referring to my feet or any other body part that could seem very unattractive to a stranger, but no; he was talking about my vagina!
Moving to the Netherlands I didn’t expect much of a change in regards to culture, living standards and healthcare. Of course I soon noticed that there were differences, but switching from German sourdough bread to soft, Dutch bread I wouldn’t call a culture shock.
My first time actually thinking “okay, this is different” was when it was time for me to go to the Gynaecologist to get a new prescription for my contraception and a regular pap smear for my yearly check-up.
Since it would be my first time going to a Gynaecologist in the Netherlands, I asked my Dutch friends for a doctor they could recommend; “What? We don’t go to the Gynaecologist here, only when we are pregnant or something major like that! Just go to your GP (General Practitioner)” was their answer.
I was quiet surprised. In Germany we start going to the Gynaecologist already between 14 and 16 years old.
The process of choosing your Gynaecologist is a delicate act of asking your family and friends for recommendations, then trying out different doctors, getting to know the place, its nurses and doctors and finally finding out for yourself if you feel comfortable with your choice.
Once you have found your “match”, you go at least once a year to make sure everything is in good health.
But now I found myself in the Netherlands, having to go with the flow of the Dutch culture, including its healthcare system. So I got myself an appointment at the nearest GP.
Arriving at the GP, the nurse brings me to the doctor’s office and tells me to wait. While waiting I already get a little nervous as I was finding myself in a regular doctor’s office, no famous “chair” in sight that indicated the doctor could have a professional look at my most intimate area.
The door opens and in comes a man, Joe Biden age category, greeting me with a firm hand shake.
He starts the average doctor’s small-talk about my age and weight, my diet, my smoking and drinking habits and cracks the usual jokes about Germans before finally asking me what I was there for.
I tell him. He looks at me confused and says: “Oh, it concerns this area of your body? That I don’t feel comfortable with! You shouldn’t come to me with such private matters”.
I am perplexed and all of a sudden feel ashamed.
He then asks if there is anything else I would like to discuss. Already scared of his reaction I carefully ask for the prescription for my contraception. “But are you in a relationship?” he asks. I answer the question with a yes, but at the same time I start wondering what this question has anything to do with my request? Does he believe women shouldn’t be having sex if they are not in a committed relationship? Do men ever get asked that same question at the cashier when buying condoms? I doubt it!
Questions I should have confronted him with, but just like when you are having an intense argument: the best responses always pop up in your head afterwards.
Overall I leave the doctor with a feeling of shame, an emotion I had never experienced after a visit to the doctor.
After shame I felt the anger. Anger about an old man having the power to make me feel ashamed for taking care of myself and my body. Anger thinking about how many young girls must have felt the same and it might have been their first experience at the doctor ever. Anger about how girls and women left to believe that talking about the health, the state and needs of their intimate area is something to be ashamed of.
After some research I found that these experiences are known as “Patient Shaming”. While it can happen to anybody, studies have found that women are significantly more likely to experience being “shamed” by a physician; while only 38% of men reported feeling guilt or shame because of something their physician said, 53% of women could recall such behaviour. The most common topics of this shaming were sex, dental hygiene, and weight.
No doctor, no man, absolutely nobody should make you feel like you have to be ashamed of being a woman, wanting to take care of your health or having an active sex life.
Should you ever have to experience “Female Patient Shaming” don’t hesitate to file a complaint, confront the doctor, leave a negative review or how about writing a whole passive-aggressive blogpost about your experience?