Making It to the Gynecologist: Your Sexual Health Matters
When I spend time with my friends, talk to them on the phone, or text, we will often bring up our recent medical appointments if one of us has gone. Usually, we share prior experiences as well. However, most of the time when I bring up that I’ve gone to the gynecologist, my friends will say to me: “Oh, I really should go...but I haven’t yet.” Not this year, this month, recently. Never.
I have received this response at least twice in the past few weeks. Some of my friends are past the recommended age of 21 years, and/or are definitely sexually active. These are the same friends that I know go to the doctor for check-ups, when they are sick, or having an non-sexually related issue, such as an allergies or pain.
Going to the gynecologist can be much more intimate than you would ever want, and it can be painful too. It’s awkward. I get that, I really do. It’s not fun. Peace of mind is worth a lot though, and getting a clean bill of health can be quite satisfying. Other than confirming that your sexual organs are healthy, the gynecologist also checks for certain types of cancers and can test for STDs if you wish. Sexual health is so ignored in many settings, and that’s a problem. People should feel proud for going to the gynecologist, maybe we should even get stickers like we used to when we were young - we deserve them.
I know for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, going to the gynecologist can raise even more issues that can make staying away that much more appealing. For queer women, going to a gynecologist can mean dealing with a doctor’s heteronormative assumptions of what sexual partners they must have. A largely perpetuated myth is that women who only have sex with women cannot transmit STDs through sexual contact, even though this is simply not true if bodily fluids are exchanged, and works off of the assumption that all women have vaginas, which again, is not true. For asexual people, it can be a reminder of the unfair expectation of sexual contact and activity. For trans and non-binary people, it can mean misgendering throughout the entire process, as many gynecology centers promote that they are for women, rather than for people who have vaginas and other related reproductive organs. The good news is that some gynecologists and centers are catching up. They understand that they need to better serve the LGBTQIA+ and are working towards that.
For those who do want to go to the gynecologist, financial issues can stand in the way. Medical bills can be very expensive, and not all insurance programs include enough coverage for gynecological health. Thankfully, places like Planned Parenthood provide gynecological services for people who could not afford them otherwise. Unfortunately, centers like these are constantly under threat of being defunded and are sometimes too far for people to travel to, so there needs to be other changes to truly make these services available for all that need them. When people are arguing about women’s sexual health in politics, they usually are referring to the sexual health of those with vulvas and related anatomy, but often conflate this to only refer to cisgender women. Keep in mind when you’re voting that some people’s only opportunity to go to receive services like this is through government funded organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and the representatives you choose can and will largely affect that.
If you have been uncomfortable with a gynecology appointment, try to find somewhere new. You should not have to put up with behavior that makes you feel bad, especially with such intimate appointments. If you’ve had multiple uncomfortable experiences, that’s not okay and I’m sure you’re tired. I would be too. Please keep trying to find a gynecologist though, because your health matters. You matter.