Red Flags When Searching for a Gyno
Finding new healthcare providers with whom you feel comfortable can be EXHAUSTING. The physical vulnerability of gynecology appointments (being basically naked in stirrups with your vulva waving in the air) can make it feel all the more important to find the right fit. To help you figure out whether the gyno(s) office you’re trying out is a keeper, check out the following yellow & red flags accompanied by some anecdotes graciously shared by some Pure Romance Consultants!
They don’t explain what they are going to do to you.
They ignore your requests or refuse to explain a procedure before they do it.
It can feel really scary to have someone poking around your vulva and in your vagina, especially if you only recently began seeing a gynecologist and are unfamiliar with what happens.
Doctors should offer an explanation of whatever they are planning to do as part of informed consent BEFORE they do it. If you notice a doctor going for the gold before letting you know how they plan to dig, you have every right to stop them and ask for more information. In fact, some doctors offer patients the option to insert their own speculums during a pap smear or transvaginal ultrasound probes, as a way to put control back into the patient’s hands during invasive procedures. This is particularly important for victims of sexual trauma for whom the experience can be retraumatizing (check out Dr. Huma Farid’s tips on how to communicate with your gyno).
However, if the doctor ignores your request for an explanation and continues to move forward without offering information or appears annoyed by your request, consider dropping them. Find someone who respects your autonomy and has a belief in informed consent.
Poor bedside manner
They minimize your questions or experiences.
Building trust is important, especially when discussing topics related to sexual health can be challenging. Therefore, it is important to find healthcare providers that treat you with respect and dignity so that you can feel comfortable sharing and asking questions.
Unfortunately, several Pure Romance Consultants experienced the opposite. One received pushback when requesting that the speculum be lubricated (while some lubricants negatively impact the exam, others have been approved for usage). Another was told to use coconut oil as a lubricant despite having allergic reactions (for some, coconut oil can negatively impact pH health). A third was accused of lying when she went in for an inflamed cervix due to her tampons, but the nurse insisted it was from condoms:
“I told her I was a virgin, but she told me not to lie and that she wasn’t going to tell my mom. I told her I wasn’t lying and she just kept arguing with me about it. The next visit, I had a different assistant and she asked when was the last time I had sex and I told her never. She replied that’s not what my chart says because the last time I was there they changed it to say I was sexually active because she thought I was so committed to lying.”
Having your concerns minimized or ignored reduces the ability to feel safe in an environment. Misinformation in your charts due to being ignored can lead to problems down the line in identifying and treating issues. It is important to connect with a gynecology office that listens to what you are experiencing and is responsive to your questions and concerns.
Assumptions are made about the gender/body parts of your partners.
They don’t consider relationships with other vulva owners relevant.
They misgender you repeatedly.
It’s 2022, y’all! Lots of us are queer and lots of AFAB (assigned female a birth) folks are non-binary, gender queer, masc, or men. This means we need reproductive health care that is inclusive and respectful of our personal genders and how we partner.
If a gynecologist misgenders you or assumes that you have a specific sexual orientation, you can choose whether or not correcting them feels safe for you. If you do and they ignore this information, that’s a sign that their office may not be a safe space for your needs.
Respecting gender and sexual orientation are already important because we don’t want people seeing doctors that don’t respect their humanity. It’s also important from a medical standpoint because lots of queer folks are not accessing vital information due to assumptions. Some people assume that two people with vulvas won’t transmit STIs but it’s still possible to share herpes, HPV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and, though rare, HIV and trichomoniasis. Others assume that if someone identifies as a lesbian, they aren’t having sex with people with penises. If this were true, lesbians and bisexual teens wouldn’t have greater risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortions than heterosexual women. If your doctor thinks your vulva to vulva sexscapades are irrelevant to your health or they are repeatedly misgendering you, try seeking out a better option.
They are a bit disorganized.
They are negligent, rude, or offensive.
Doctors see a lot of patients so they may not remember you from one visit to another, but they should be paying attention to the information they on file. If the office loses your paperwork or has inaccurate data on you, that’s a warning sign. You don’t know what else they might be getting wrong in their care and treatment.
A new OB-GYN fired a Consultant after she expressed frustration with the new doctor’s performance. The doctor told her she would have to pay for her medical records. After responding to questions that were already answered in her chart, here’s what happened:
“She did my Pap smear and told me to call in three days for results. When I did, she had no clue why I called. So, when I refreshed her memory she said, “Oh, I don’t know why we would tell you to call back so soon. They aren’t back.” I expressed to her how bothered I was because she didn’t seem to know what she was doing. I received a letter the following week letting me know they could no longer see me at that practice due to my dissatisfaction as a patient.”
While an OB-GYN might need to be on call for deliveries and related complications, your appointments should not include non-emergency cell phone interruptions. At best, it can cause discomfort for the patient being seen. At worst, it can be distracting to the doctor and lead to mistakes. One Consultant shares their unexpected interruption:
“I’m at the OB-GYN with no pants and my legs spread and she’s down there doing her thing and I just hear, ‘Hello…. this is she.’ SHE ANSWERED THE PHONE WHILE SHE WAS BETWEEN MY LEGS and she stopped what she was doing to schedule herself an appointment! I’m just lying there with my legs open while she leaned up against the counter talking on the phone.”
They are racist, ableist, fatphobic, etc.
The medical field is full of problematic and outdated teachings that negatively impact the treatment certain groups receive. These include myths around Black people having higher pain tolerance, a dependence upon BMI as a health marker, and stereotypes that take away the sexual agency of disabled people. If your doctor or the people in their office are using inaccurate information in their treatment of people and conditions, you can try to educate them and/or just leave.
They let personal beliefs get in the way of their work.
Your gynecologist should provide a space to ask questions about reproductive and sexual health. This includes questions about sex! If you experience pain or discomfort, are concerned about your odor, or want to know about different birth control options available to you, these are questions that should be answered without judgment. If you are feeling shamed or if a doctor is withholding necessary information or treatment, you can find someone else who will address your needs.
The biggest takeaway: You should feel safe in your OB-GYN’s office. If you don’t, that could be a sign to look for a new doctor that can give you what you need. What else do you consider yellow or red flags? Let us know!
Yael R. Rosenstock GonzalezSex Educator, Researcher, Author, Speaker
Yael has been engaged in workshop development and facilitation since she joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as a teen peer reproductive rights educator at 15 years old. Since then, she has served as an educator with children ranging from 10 months old to adults in their 70s with different organizations and communities. In her work as first Program Coordinator, then Director of Programming, and finally Associate Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, Yael developed and led events, workshops, and programs with an intersectionality lens.