“30 minutes prior to your appointment please take either 600mg of Ibuprofen or 1,000mg of Tylenol.” These are the pre-appointment instructions for the insertion of an intrauterine device. Why are women expected to take only slightly higher doses of over the counter narcotics to handle a procedure on the most sensitive part of their body? The answer is years of sexism in medicine. 

In private life, women are still not encouraged to talk openly about sex, and are subject to intense criticism and name-calling if they do. Even today, women being excessively open and comfortable with sexuality is considered embarrassing, yet men compare “body counts” only to encourage raising the number higher. In a society where women cannot discuss their sexual lives and partners without facing judgment, the gynecologist’s office should be a safe haven.

Stepping into the office is already an uncomfortable feeling due to the multiple greeters and receptionists a woman will encounter before the private visit with her gynecologist. But once the doors are closed, this discomfort only escalates with the unique feeling of full vulnerability while in stirrups. Going in for an IUD appointment is extremely anxiety-inducing, and there isn’t much conversation about this form of birth control to make women feel more comfortable during this appointment. 

Ironically, gynecology was considered a man’s work until recent years. Though the percentage of female OB-GYNs and gynecologists increased from 7% in 1970 to approximately 59% in 2017 now, the history of sexism in hiring women into this occupation has perpetuated into a lack of truly understanding the female body and the psychological and physiological effects of different appointments. Without a personal experience with the female reproductive system, male gynecologists created a precedent of normalcy for women enduring physical pains as an expected aspect of their experience in the doctor’s office. 

Furthermore, studies indicate that “male physicians take medical illnesses more seriously in men than women,” which could lead to an explanation as to why women’s pain is generally less believed by physicians even after the demographic shift of this occupation. This lack of understanding between the doctor and patient creates not only pain in the office, but also normalized anxiety outside of it.

Birth control is extremely important and relevant to many college students, especially with the convenience of University Health Services on campus. Yet, with the gaining popularity of this method of birth control, there is no growing comfort in having the procedure done. Many students may choose to undergo this procedure due to the predominant sex culture in college. Of course, this relates back to the expectation of women in heterosexual relationships to carry a strong burden of birth control over the male partner, potentially forcing women into painful procedures. Though an IUD is not the only option for birth control, it is known to be one of the most effective methods, having a 99% success rate

Why is a woman’s comfort not prioritized during such an appointment? Women’s rights outside of the gynecologist’s office should apply inside as well, though many women find themselves nervous to attend appointments due to the discomfort experienced during them. This lack of care for a woman’s well-being and ease during an important appointment further proves the lack of consideration for women’s rights and the continued sexism women experience due to different standards to which they are held. 

Every source I spoke with to provide a personal experience described the insertion of an IUD as, “the worst pain of their lives.” A close friend of mine was almost sent to the hospital for profuse vomiting due to the physical pain she experienced after the insertion. Newsflash, 600 mg of Ibuprofen or 1,000 mg of Tylenol doesn’t do much when a plastic or metal device is inserted roughly seven centimeters into the most sensitive part of a female’s body. Yet, women are told this is normal, that this is the only step they can take beforehand in order to relieve themselves of some future discomfort. 

This notion of women being able to endure this amount of pain has only been continued through years of sexism propelled through the medical system, and it only continues to be normalized with the acceptance of birth control in general. Although this method is extremely effective, women should not have to choose effectiveness through unavoidable, intense pain. 

Female gynecologists have made strides towards being seen as equals in their field, but there is still work to be done in helping all women feel more comfortable in their bodies and sexuality. There should be much more awareness towards the inequalities women experience even in the most private, professional environments that should be considered a “safe space” to discuss these vulnerable topics. However, this progress toward equality and comfort for all women depends on our everyday conversations outside of the doctor’s office.

Dimitra Colovos can be reached at dimitrac@umich.edu.

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