IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Slut-Shamed By My Doctor

Women should feel empowered for taking responsibility of their personal and sexual health, not demeaned and judged for doing so.

Oct 24, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Like every self-respecting college-aged woman, I am a "Law & Order: SVU" aficionado. My celebrity crush is Detective Elliot Stabler and my Netflix recommendations consist of series after series about crime and sex. Also like most college-aged women, there was a certain moment of a certain episode that struck a little too close to home.
 
One weekend toward the end of my senior year, I decided to visit my sister at her place about an hour away from my college town. After a few hours of Mexican food and Netflix (obviously), she turned in for the night while I switched the cue and continued my personal SVU binge. Within minutes my girl-crush, M.E. Warner, was briefing the detectives on the status of their latest victim and began listing off the symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease. For the first time in my 100+ episode marathon, my heart skipped a beat.
 
The victim had developed the disease after untreated gonorrhea had progressed to inflammation in her lower abdomen. I’d noticed irregular symptoms of my own a couple weeks earlier, but being the hopeful 20-something that I am, chalked my heavy discharge and spotting up to a yeast infection and attempted self-medication with an OTC kit. When my symptoms didn’t subside, and when Tamara Tunie handed me a perfectly viable diagnosis via instant streaming, my fear began its own progression into panic.
 
I confirmed my symptoms with MayoClinic.com. Pain in your lower abdomen and pelvis. Irregular menstrual bleeding. Pain during intercourse. Painful or difficult urination. I’d had them all, but what did it mean? Is it treatable? Had my partner been cheating on me? The questions without answers came to a sudden stop when my cursor clicked through pages of information and landed on a page discussing complications. 
 
Ectopic pregnancy. Chronic pelvic pain. Infertility.
 
For one panicked moment, I had forgotten how to breathe. In what couldn’t have been more than a 15-minute window I’d gone from chatting on the couch with my sister to not being able to fulfill my ultimate dream of one day experiencing pregnancy and motherhood. All because of something that I wasn’t even sure I had. 
 
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. My mind was flooded with thoughts of infertility and a cheating boyfriend, not to mention it was the middle of the night. After what felt like hours of silently sobbing and worrying to myself, I fell asleep in my sister’s darkened living room.
 
The next morning I woke up with a game plan, which was actually just a 2-pack of pregnancy tests and a GPS route to the nearest 24-hour clinic in my college town. My 32-ounce soda and I ruled out pregnancy, but truth be told it wasn’t much of a relief. Would I rather be unexpectedly pregnant at 22 with a deadbeat boyfriend, or unable to have children even when I was ready? I wasn’t really sure of the answer, not that it mattered much at that point anyhow.
 
image

The small space where a minute can feel like a lifetime.

 
Checking in at the clinic later that afternoon wasn’t all that out of the ordinary. I was a miserable-looking person in a waiting room with other miserable-looking people, so at the very least I was happy to blend in. I chatted with the receptionist at the counter, filled out some paperwork, and indicated “STI exam” as the reason for my visit. Over the next hour and a half wheezing patients were escorted to exam rooms until finally an uninterested nurse in childish scrubs called my name and I followed her to a typical stuffy room.
 
Our dialogue was basic.
 
“What’s the reason for your visit?”
 
“I think I might have an STI.” 
 
“What are your symptoms?”
 
“Some spotting, irregular discharge, pain during sex. Sometimes it stings when I pee. Actually, I watched this episode of SVU and I’m pretty sure-“
 
“How long have you had these symptoms?”
 
“Uh, a couple of weeks. Two weeks, I think.”
 
“I’m gonna need you to strip from the waist down and put this on. The doctor will be with you soon.”
 
So I stripped and waited. I waited in the exam room half naked, bare ass to paper, by myself for an hour. Every passing minute fueled my frustration, but what else was I supposed to do? Cold and embarrassed, I continued to wait until a middle-aged man walked in with a chart in his hands. 
 
“So spotting, discharge, and pelvic pain. This could be one of a number of things. Sit forward on the table for me, can you prop your legs up here? There we go. Let’s take a look.”
 
Normally I like a guy who gets straight to business, but there was just something about this scenario that left me disappointed over not getting at least a handshake first. So there I lay, assuming the position for a full-on pelvic exam with a man who had yet to ask me my name and within seconds of our introduction he was giving me my first piece of bad news.
 
“I definitely notice the discharge, so we’ll run a few tests for that. Looks like chlamydia, possibly gonorrhea, but we’ll have to wait to find out. I’ll also test to rule out trichomoniasis, but it’s definitely one of those three.”
 
The rapid-fire information caught me off-guard. After hours of waiting and a mere few minutes with this doctor I wasn’t given anything more than a slap-dash exam and an assumption of a diagnosis, but he wasn’t finished yet.
 
“Some of your symptoms could also be for a UTI or bacterial vaginosis, so we’ll test for those as well. Also, your cervix doesn’t look good. It’s not a healthy pink color. Kind of bluish. I recommend getting a follow-up appointment with a gynecologist for that. Be right back.”
 
Legs still in the air, I waited again, this time only for a few minutes for the doctor to come back with a fancy machine, a nurse, and cups for me to pee in. Tests were taken, samples were given, and I was instructed to put my clothes back on and wait for the doctor in my exam room. 
 
When he came back (13 minutes. I timed him.), the doctor began asking questions that I imagined would have been more fitting pre-pelvic, if at all.
 
“How many partners have you been with since you last test?”
 
“Just this one, and we always use a condom, so that’s why I came in. I’m not sure what’s going on.”
 
“Are you sure you’ve used one every time?” Judgment. Lots of it.
 
“Yes. I’m very careful. And my partner hasn’t had any symptoms, and I’m not pregnant, I checked already, so…”
 
“Then are you sure your partner isn’t having intercourse with anyone else? If you’re actually only sleeping with one person, then you had to get this problem from him, right?”
 
I was appalled. Shocked. Pissed off. There I was, a young woman trying to take control over her sexual health who was just slut-shamed by the very person who was obligated to help her. 
 
“Well, your urine sample is only 25% through, but it’s already positive for a UTI. I’ll prescribe antibiotics for that, as well as the chlamydia. We’ll call you with the results once they’re in. The nurse will be in soon with your papers.”
 
He left as quickly as he’d arrived. Luckily the nurse showed up fairly quickly and after 3 and-a-half hours at the clinic, I left feeling worse than when I’d come in the first place.
 
Though I never said anything to him or the clinic about it, the way I was treated by this doctor was unacceptable. Women should feel empowered for taking responsibility of their personal and sexual health, not demeaned and judged for doing so. 
 
The phone call from the clinic a week later told me all of my results were negative. Even the “positive” UTI test.  A follow-up with a gynecologist yielded perfectly healthy results. I don’t know what prompted the doctor at the clinic to treat me the way he did, but even after my experience in that office, I don’t regret doing what I know was right for me. No woman ever should.
 

May We Suggest