Does Gender Matter For Your OB/GYN?

by Danielle C. Belton

GynecologistIt sounds odd now, but my mother was actually proud to take me to her gynecologist for my first pap smear when I was a teen.

Mostly because my mother – always a very “pro-woman”  figure in my life – thought it was important for her daughters to see women, particularly women of color, in important positions. She beamed as she introduced me to her long-time OB/GYN who happened to be a tiny, friendly, but extremely blunt Asian woman.

She was my mother’s first female OB/GYN and my mother had an overwhelming preference for women doctors, as her long-time primary care physician was female as well.

Before the 1980s, all the doctors who’d treated my mother were white males. Not because she’d explicitly wanted a male doctor, but because in the 1970s, there wasn’t much variety in St. Louis, Mo. So the minute she could find get some diversity, she went for it. Even the vast majority of my childhood pediatricians were either foreign-born or women.

But for her, having a female gynecologist was especially important.

“Why would I want someone down there who doesn’t even know what I’m working with,” she would exclaim. She also said she felt safer with a female doctor. There was a lot less anxiety about enduring what is already a pretty intimate procedure between you, some stirrups and the world’s coldest metal devices.

I never gave it another thought until I took my first job in Texas and a woman at my workplace who was pregnant told me how revolting she found it to see a female gynecologist.

“Touching me there?” she shrieked. “It seems wrong!”

I asked her why it seemed so wrong, being that a woman doctor has probably already seen her fair share of vagina, and she remarked her fear that a woman motivated to go into gynecology must be “a lesbian.”

She also expressed that in high school she didn’t even undress in the girls locker room, preferring to change in the bathroom stall. I pointed out the flaw in her logic by saying a male gynecologist could easily be attracted to her or a sexual predator. But she shot that down. Her homophobia was a bigger concern than her fear of sexual assault by a man.

Again though, without much thought to it, I continued to primarily only pick women as my gynecologist and had forgotten completely about the gender war of which gender is more appropriate to exam your cervix until I read this recent post on Jezebel.

The story was about a male gynecologist who’d committed suicide after being caught taking pictures of his patients for years. The story prompted an interesting debate, as readers warred over which gender makes the better gyno.

Jez Commenrs

The logic tended to fall along two lines:

If you were against male gynecologists it was about fear of sexual exploitation, discomfort with an unfamiliar man seeing you naked, rebelling against past societal norms were all gynecologists were men or concern that men wouldn’t be as understanding about a woman’s body since they aren’t working with the same equipment.

If you were against female gynecologists it seemed to be all about how some had terrible experiences with female gynos who were rude, pushy, didn’t listen to them or were insensitive, whereas the better male doctors tended to over-compensate for their lack of vagina with a heaping dose of politeness.

Much of it reminded me of the different reactions my sisters and I had to our mother’s gynecologist. I thought she was perfectly fine and chalked it up to cultural differences when she, rather bluntly, would tell me I needed to lose weight. Irregular period? Lose weight. Period happening too often? Lose weight. Period has painful cramps? Lose weight. She would not be the first, nor the last, Asian woman born overseas to tell me or someone I know how fat they are. Although, I’d give anything to be that “fat” again, as I was a “fat” size 8 as a teenager.

But I never put my mother’s gynos universal “You’re too fat” response on all women OB/GYNs. And I also believe most male gynecologists are professionals who take their jobs seriously. If there were more crooked perverts than good guys it would destroy the profession.

I still feel more comfortable with a woman doctor, but it’s a preference, not a rule. Ultimately, I only care if the doctor is good at his or her job. And even ol’ Miss “lose weight” still looked for other ways to treat my temperamental lady parts that didn’t solely involve a treadmill.

What do you think? Does gender matter when you’re looking for a doctor for your lady parts?

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    I have had both a woman and man gyn.
    The woman started out great but then over the years she did become somewhat insensitive and a little discourteous. So on to the next which is now an old school man gyn. He is a great doc and covers things concerning your overall health but sometimes I do feel like a man doesn’t really know what it is like for a woman i.e. going through PMS, periods, and hormonal changes etc.

  • http://gravatar.com/jadenoellesblog Jade Noelle

    Yes, gender matters for me, and I am comfortable in saying that I fall in the category of women who prefer female doctors because I have a general discomfort with strange men looking at me in a certain way. For all those women for whom gender does not matter, hats off to you but experience shapes attitudes and behaviors, and I don’t feel as though I have to be liberal on such a personal issue.

  • Christa

    I think we should strive for people who are professional no matter what sex they are. The process is awkward and uncomfortable enough. I say whatever you need to do to add comfort to that situation you should do

  • fierce angel

    A good doc is a good doc

  • Sasha

    I’ve been to both and prefer a male gyno. In my personal experience he was more patient, listened and answered all my questions and never rushed me. When I told him I wanted to go on the pill he pulled me into his office, asked me a lot of questions and recommended what he felt would suit me best. Female gynos on the other hand rush, aren’t very gentle and don’t seem to entertain questions. I get the feeling they believe that because they have a vagina themselves and are gynos you should automatically believe everything they say without question or be able to handle their roughness. This is what I believe based on my personal experience and because of this my preference will always be a male gyno.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    Race and gender both matter. I went to the ER because I suddenly could not stand upright. I explained to the nurse that I was having an evening with myself (that means B.O.B. not a man). I had not been with an actual human being in over a year. The doctor insisted I had PID or Gonorrhea and ran all kinds of STD checks on me. The pelvic exam was painful. The whole experience was humiliating. When I insisted that it was impossible he said, “It must be your period. It smells like its coming.” The next morning I went to my OB/Gyn (A black woman) and she explained that I had a cyst to rupture on my ovary. The ER doctor was right about my period coming but failed to diagnose me at all. It turns out that the hormones from pending menstruation causes the cysts to rupture. This is a mechanism of gynecologic self-correction. However, when the cyst is large it causes the sudden onset of pain during sex or happy vibe time and the inability to stand up. A researcher, by nature and for occupation, I looked into Gynecologic conditions and found that 30% of them are misdiagnosed at the ER. Then I looked up the stats on ER physicians. It about 75%. I can only imagine how many other women have had a similar experience.

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    I’ve always a female gyno. My current one is great and doesn’t make me feel uncomformtable at all. My mother’s was ok. She was a South Asian woman and funny enough, grabbed my stomach once and told me I needed to lose weight too! But in the end she was right. Even though I was normal weight, the fat around my stomach was causing a whole host of problems especially with my irregular periods. Belly fat messes with your hormones!

  • Pseudonym

    I prefer male gynecologists b/c I find them to be gentler (presumably b/c they don’t have vaginas). After speaking with a friend’s sister who is an Ob/Gyn about how she’s seen white male doctor’s rush black women to C-sections (to save time and make their golf game and just being lazy), I will probably opt for a black Ob when I am having a child. If not, I will at least make sure to have the “don’t cut me open to save time” conversation with my doc.

  • Kelli

    As a sexual assault victim, I definitely feel more comfortable with a woman doctor. This is years after the fact although in a pinch, i have seen a male, always with a female present.Aside from that,even if I didn’t go through rape, I still would rather visit a female doctor, because I don’t want some strange man looking in my privates.

  • Pseudonym

    Sounds like your issue is more “nonspecializing ER doc vs. specialized Ob/Gyn doc” rather than a “white doc vs. black female doc” problem. That’s one of the common criticisms of ER physicians- they’re not really trained to treat people, but rather to stabilize critically ill patients and send them off to the other doctors for actual treatment. Therefore, after a while they may lose knowledge of conditions that they don’t see often.

  • victoria

    Not having sex in over a year doesnt mean a person cant have an STD

  • victoria

    Although, I have had positive visits to male Ob/Gyns , I prefer females. In America, my Ob/Gyns have been black females (Afr Amer, African, and Jamaican). I currently live in Europe. I have a female Romanian gyno. In Europe, the doctors examine you butt naked. No robe, no paper apron. Bottoms off, a$$ out.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    I actually returned to the hospital to collect my lab results and I tested negative for everything. Race and gender absolutely was involved. I doubt that a 35 year old white female academic would have been immediately tested for an STD.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    I gave birth at the same hospital because my water broke and I couldn’t make it to my hospital and was badgered about my birth control options by another white male physicians. When I said I will discuss my options with MY Ob/Gyn” he shouted at me, “I just want you to have a plan!” I shouldn’t have had to explain to him that my children were 14 years apart so I think I know how not to get pregnant. I also shouldn’t have had to tell him that my son was planned. So again, I wonder how many white women with advanced degrees are treated this way?

  • victoria

    Im not denying that it may have been for racists reasons that the doctor wanted to examine you for STDs. If that is your perception, I cannot take that away from you. B/c you stated that you havent had sex in over a year (inferring that you cant have a STD b/c of this), I wanted to let the masses know that no matter how long it has been since a person has had sex, it is still possible to have a STD. That’s all.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m pretty sure STD tests are standard for any woman presenting to the ER with pelvic pain. Especially if you don’t have urination issues (which rules out a UTI). It’s probably STDs, ovarian cysts, PID and the STD test is the least invasive of your options at that point. The standard of care is to do the least invasive things first.

  • ChaCha1

    I have been to male ob/gyn a few times (my doctor was on vacation or called off), and each time, I was very tense and uncomfortable. I prefer to go to a doctor who has a body like my own.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    I wasn’t just responding to your comment. I was also responding to the comment above it as well suggesting that my incident was because of a non-specializing ER doc. I just know that when we walk in there is an assumption that “she is black; she is promiscuous”. I think that black female doctors may have those same assumptions but it doesn’t dominate their perceptions of black female patients.

  • Fantastico

    @ seritatheresa and Pseudonym I see what both of you are saying.

    Something similar happened to me I think the std check is a good initial step for all cases no matter sexual history. It’s good for the patient to rule everything out everything and it covers the hospital’s a**.

    The next step is to refer the patient to a gyno asap. Did the Dr. advise you to go the the gyno the next day or did you do it on your own? If not it should be built into that ER’s protocal asap.

    From what seritatheresa said I sense a major problem was the disrespectful tone the doctor took with you not necessarily the tests. Am I right?

    I had respectful (male) doctors so I wasn’t offended by the tests even though I knew I was std free.

    Systematically the ER misdiagnose Women more so than men, missing everything from cysts to heart attacks. There are major systematic changes necessary to bring the ER up to par.

  • Pseudonym

    Here’s an algorithm for diagnosing acute pelvic pain in a female: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0715/p141.html

    Basically, if it’s not in the lower right quadrant or paraumbilical (hinting at appendicitis which can be serious so need to rule out right away), the next thing you consider is pelvic inflammatory disease (which is caused by STDs). That’s just the standard of care, no matter the race of the patient:

    Step 1: Is it appendicitis?
    Step 2: If it doesn’t appear to be appendicitis, give them an STD test.

  • Pseudonym

    Of course that is after confirming that the pt isn’t pregnant.

  • Wanda

    My general preference is female, but I think it depends on the doctor.

  • http://airindanyell.tumblr.com Erin

    I prefer women OB/GYN’s, although I’ve never had a negative experience with male one’s, I just feel more comfortable with another woman examining me and I feel like it’s easier to discuss with a woman, women’s issues.

  • Jessica

    I had my first OBGYN visit last summer after my 22nd birthday–I went to a male gyno that my mom had been visiting over the years.
    All these preferences people have with the sex of their OBGYN never crossed my mind…maybe I’ll develop a preference as I go through more experiences, but I feel like the process overall can be awkward regardless–if being with a male or female doc brings you peace of mine with the situation, that’s fine!
    For me, it was knowing that my mom had trusted this doc for years and that he was respected in his field. But I’m aware that not everything works for everyone, and that a doctor may not be right if they have bad bedside manner or a sense of humor that may bother a patient, regardless of the sex. Some people may even like a person who gets straight to the point…With many things in life there are a lot of variables and you may have to go through trial & error to find what works for you.

  • Jaslene

    Yes.

  • Nodiggitynodoubt

    I had a male gyno and he was phenomenal. He corrected a problem I had with my period and a biopsy I had to have becasue of an abnormal pap reading. I have a woman Gyno now and she is great too. I did as a teenager have to ago the the County hospital and the asian doctor in training was told to use a smaller device and he didnt, was shocked to find out I was a virgin still and needless to say I went to bed when got home due to the fact that I was in pain and embarrassed beyond belief. Thats my story!

  • apple

    is he cute?
    just kidding yall

  • http://gravatar.com/chloerayne516 GirlSixx

    My male gyno is THE BEST!!! he’s gentle, tentative and caring NOT TO SAY female gynos aren’t but I had an appt with one once because mine was on hospital duty delivering a baby and i found her to be a little rough when doing my pap smear and non communicative.. I just didn’t feel comfortable. *shrug*

  • Keshia

    I want a black female doctor….shoot me.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    I’ve had respectful male doctors as well but in these two situations they were unprofessional and disrespectful. Also the article @pseudonym refers to is peppered with the words “patient history” If the patient insists that PID is impossible then you might want to LISTEN TO YOUR PATIENT. The other thing I got from both the article and my doctor was that an ultrasound should have been performed. It would have shown the cyst. I’m not saying that all white male doctors are bad. But I can say that I was never treated this poorly by a black female and that’s why they’re the only Ob/Gyns I see.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    No it wasn’t the tests it was him. He diagnosed me before I even sat down. He didn’t check for appendicitis, cervicitis (which I thought it was) ectopic pregnancy, or anything. Black girl with vagina problem = disease.

  • camille

    I actually prefer the nurse practitioner at my practice for routine examinations. They tend to be more patient education oriented and offer practical advice. While I do prefer female OB/GYN’s over males, a man delivered my son which was fine with me

  • The Moon in the Sky

    Yes.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    DID YOU JUST SAY” it must be your period. it smells like it’s coming”!?!

    i’m sorry but. ROFL WTF? seriously? who does that?

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    A white male doctor in Mississippi.

  • Nikster

    Gender doesn’t matter. Just want a good doctor. Have had male and female OB/GYNs.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa
  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    The majority of ER doctors are men. So, if the ER misdiagnose women more frequently than men can we really disregard the ER physician gender gap as a factor.

  • Pseudonym

    But it’s easier to run those labs while they wait to fit you into ultrasound. You can’t just pop into ultrasound unannounced. Things are done in this specific order b/c if they waited around to get you into ultrasound, got you into ultrasound, and found nothing from that, then they’d wished they’d taken the two seconds to do an STD test b/c now they have to send you back down, get labs drawn, and wait for the results. It’s just medical critical thinking/differential diagnosis. I can tell you that if a resident brought a case to an attending with negative ultrasound result, the next question will be about STD results and if there are no STD results that resident will get chewed out for not getting the basic labs drawn as is standard on a pelvic pain female patient.

    You definitely should have gotten an ultrasound after your STD tests came back negative- that goes back to what I said about non-specialized ER docs. There’s no way they should have just sent you home doubling over in pelvic pain with no known source.

    I’m not saying that it’s not possible that you were treated differently based on your race (it happens in medicine ALL THE TIME), I’m just saying that this particular approach to your pelvic pain is not out of the ordinary and is the same standard steps practices on women of all races.

  • Pseudonym

    Ooooo! You called him out!

    (The power of the Internet is amazing.)

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    This! I prefer female doctors but if a doctor is highly skilled and recommended for me then it doesn’t matter.

  • Robbie

    I have a male gynecologist and I love him. This man is so professional. I have nothing bad to say about him. I was told by some of my girlfriends that the males are more gentle than the females and in my case, I agree.

    I once saw a female and she left me in tears while at the same time scolding me for not been tough enough for an exam even though I specifically told her I was still a virgin. She did not believe me and thought that I was lying to her because I am a grown woman. Even after realising that, she did not apologized but had the audaccity to tell me once you get married what would you do when your husband would want to touch you. You will cry like a baby.

    I will not let a woman touch me after this experience. I have to say that in my case based on my current doctor (he is from Iran), I have no issues with a male doctor.

  • Treece

    I prefer a female gyno. I’m in agreement with the argument that females know what its Like to have one (a vagina) so the May be more sensitive to certain issues and how they handle you down there. Not gonna lie, it does kinda give.me a creepy feeling knowing that a man chose to go into a field where he looks at female genitalia all day….I know its crazy, but just my feeling. The news story confirms my paranoia.

  • Treece

    Damn Skippy!

  • http://gangstarrgirl.wordpress.com gangstarrgirl

    I had a creepy experience with a male doctor as a child. As a result I am adamant about selecting female GP’s and OB/GYNs.

  • http://gangstarrgirl.wordpress.com gangstarrgirl

    But even aside from said creepy experience. I’d rather someone who has a vagina and can empathize than someone who doesn’t.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    I worked at this hospital in 2010. It’s actually easier and less time consuming to do an ultrasound. Remember I had to go back after 4 days to get my lab results. Ultrasound machines are on wheels and are in the hall. Drs. are able to perform the ultrasound, no tech is necessary. STI tests ARE NOT routine. The patient history and the symptoms are supposed to guide which tests are ordered.

  • Mademoiselle

    I’m ok with a male gyno for all the procedures that don’t involve touching. And I’m only slightly ok with a female gyno doing the touching parts. My dream set up would involve me performing all the physical exams myself, and the male/female doctor running the tests & recording the results. I don’t like strangers touching me, but I put up with doctors because they can’t assess me if they don’t.

  • Kincaid2576

    I think we should discuss our vaganias in a non sexual way more often. I haven’t seen a single stupid comment from the regular male trolls that frequent this site.

  • Roni b

    My ob/gyn is a male and I love him..he’s very gentle,understanding,funny and makes me feel very comfortable..more comfortable than the woman gyno I had..and I’ve been seeing him for years..when it’s time for an exam he brings a female nurse in so everything’s all good..I wouldn’t switch him for a female.

  • E.M.S.

    Female please! I’ve always felt that it was better to have a doctor of the same gender. As young as eight I demanded my mother start taking me to a female doctor just for my primary physician. I’m more comfortable because she understands.

    While I am certain there are good male gynos who are professional, I just personally couldn’t see one. After all the stories I’ve heard, I don’t want to risk being another victim.

    I remember a terrible story on a website where this woman shared that even though she saw a male gyno and he was professional during the exam, he was the opposite once he left the room. Apparently he spoke with another physician just outside and said, “I don’t know how she found herself a husband” referring to the physical appearance of her vagina and laughed. I can only imagine what other awful experiences women have had with male gynos.

    If the worst thing a female gyno does is tell me to lose weight (which I’m working on anyway), I’ll take that over the other stuff any day.

  • Sic’em

    I’ve only had nurse practitioners (female) and I have no intention of ever using an ob/gyn unless I am having a Casarean or some kind of problem giving birth. Nurse practitioners just seem better for normal checkups.

  • The Other Jess

    I will ONLY go to female OB/GYN’s for regular office visits. If the OB/GYN in the delivery room is male when I’m giving birth one day, that’s fine, because i really won’t have a choice then. Otherwise, no men EVER as my gyne. Unfortunately, I just don’t trust random men enough to allow some man I hardly know to be rooting around in there. They aren’t trustworthy enough ad I just would NOT be comfortable.

  • Gigi

    I went to a male OB/GYN once…once. He acted like he was my damn daddy and told me that at 26 years of age I should not be concerned with sexual matters because I was not married! Needless to say, I found a female OB/GYN quick! I know not all doctors are as unprofessional as the one I saw, but that experience was enough to instill distrust in the kind of relationship I could have with a male MD while simultaneously robbing me of the agency I have over my healthcare.

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    I think bringing in a woman who is a nurse or assistant during the actual pap smear/examination is the standard procedure for men gyn’s.

  • Penny

    I prefer to have all female doctors (OBGYN, Primary Care Physician, whatever…) if possible. I feel more comfortable talking with them and I feel as if they listen to me much better than male doctors.

  • black_feminist

    @seritatheresa, thank you for sharing this. I also think that race and gender are important. I generally choose female doctors, preferably black women. I have not had an extremely negative experience such as yours, but I have not felt as comfortable with male (all of them white) doctors. I’ve had concerns about them possibly treating me the way that you were mistreated. I don’t have this kind of apprehension with women, especially women of color, doctors and I feel more comfortable with them. I needed to go to the doctor a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned my hesitation to see white, male physicians, to my boyfriend. He said I was a racist and broke up with me :(

  • Wong Chia Chi

    @ seritatheresa

    thank you for calling out the racist doctor and giving his name. Ignore the people second guessing you. I wish more black people would speak up about this kind of discrimination so that more people know who to be wary of. Hopefully with the internet they will. I’ve had nothing but negative experiences with non poc professionals. Some worse than others but generally negative.

    The everything is a symptom of a possible STD thing, if you’re black, is so true. I’ve heard this from sooo many people. I get black out migraines from time to time, and I went to a health clinic doctor. She asked me if I had tested for STDs recently and I told her yes. That I had with my ex boyfriend and that I had not been sexually active since being with him. She still insisted that I get tested, and I did, and my test was negative like I thought *eyeroll*.

    The migraines are apparently a side effect of my Nuevaring, which she told me to stop taking because I’m not sexually active. I told her I take birth control for my painful, heavy periods as well as for a prophylactic. I went to Planned Parenthood where they recommended another kind of birth control and have not been back to that doctor since.

    If only I could do the same with my physchiatrist. thankfully I only see her once a month. I absolutely can’t stand her but she’s my only source for my meds at the moment.

  • v

    I really don’t understand why a woman would choose a male doctor to examine her private parts if she had the option of a woman doctor. Sorry.

  • Pseudonym

    As I mentioned in a previous comment, I’ve found male Ob/Gyn docs to be gentler than female docs- presumably b/c they don’t have vaginas so they’re more careful.

    As for “private parts,” when you’re in an Ob/Gyn office there is NOTHING sexy about the vaginas doctors are seeing (unless you have some sort of medical vagina fetish). As a med student who has spent much time in Ob/Gyn offices, after probably using the bathroom a few times and sweating a bit, most of the vaginas placed up in those stirrups smell not-so-great. And if it’s a woman who had unprotected sex the night before…smells a bit…like a turn-off rather than a turn-on. I’m sure most male gynecologists are NOT turned on those office visits. (Actually, I know a male surgeon who went into surgery after quitting Ob/Gyn b/c seeing so many gross vaginas everyday turned his stomach for vaginas and when he would return home, he wouldn’t want to have sex with his wife.)

    You’re free to have a woman Ob/Gyn if you would like, but it’s very unlikely that male gynecologists are approaching office visits as any kind of “sexy time.”

  • woodenteeth

    i will never forget the time i went to an appointment with my wife. it was for pregnancy, and it was a male doctor. i saw the exam, and the feeling i experienced was something like a jealous rage, but yet i was obliged to keep my mouth shut and my feelings bottled. and i did for a short time. I became very depressed, and i could not eat or sleep for days because it bothered me that bad. i finally had to tell my wife that i wanted her to change to a female doctor, because I just couldnt handle the emotional freight-train wreck anymore. she was understanding, so she switched for me. But for some reason, it still haunts me from time to time, like when she has to go to a doctor i am now paranoid that a man is going to be doing something intimate to my wife, i makes me so angry that a man would be so cruel as to enter this line of work and wreak so much havoc on a couple in addition to the problem they went to a doctor in the first place.
    I would advise anyone to see only a female ob/gyn in the future, i dont think it is right or acceptable in any case.
    there is no way you will convince me that a male doctor that sees 20 or more pateints a day for years will not the one time have sexual thoughts while doing a pelvic or breast exam, there is no way.
    so that is my thoughts on male doctors and female pateints.

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