At Least You’re Not Pregnant?


I can’t even tell you how many times I went to the health center on my college campus for a cold and a cough, and ended up being questioned about my sex life. Their go-to diagnosis was, “Well, she’s probably pregnant (or if not, maybe she has an std).” I always assumed it was because I attended a Jesuit university that the nurses were a little paranoid about sex outside of marriage, and wanted to discourage it at all costs–even when it was not medically implied.  Yet, this article on Women In The World of The Daily Beast and a more recent health care experience made me realize that maybe it’s a phenomenon other than that. For me, in college this line of questioning was nothing more than a minor annoyance/funny story to tell in the caf about the health center’s continued incompetence.  Both of my parents are medical professionals, so I learned about your more basic illnesses and how they should be treated at a fairly young age. With that knowledge, I was able to bring the nurses around to medicating my true illness (usually a sinus infection) without a lot of unnecessary pregnancy tests.

But for some, it isn’t that simple. When doctors jump to the conclusion that all young women are, to quote the author of the article, “reckless harlots,” it can jeopardize their health by ignoring the real problem, create unnecessary stress, fear and shame, and subject women to needless (and often costly) medical procedures. What is going on in medicine today that leads practitioners to lean towards sexual shaming when ladies visit the doctor’s for unrelated ailments? And are men being subjected to the same line of questioning when they visit a doctor for the sniffles?

Catherine Schurz contacted 20 hospitals and urgent care facilities on the East Coast, and found that many organizations agreed with this line of questioning for women of menstruation age. They admitted there is no standard policy for testing women for pregnancy or STIs, and many said they would test for pregnancy without permission, and without even asking if the women was sexually active first, if they had any inkling the women could possibly be pregnant and withholding the information. And while I thought I had left this type of sentiment behind with college and university health centers, I experienced the same type of treatment in a Manhattan ER after I fainted and hit my head pretty hard. After hours of waiting and wondering when they’d check to see if I had a concussion, a doctor swung by, confirmed that my pregnancy test was negative, and discharged me with the advice that I should take some advil and see my primary care. Though many questions and a whopper of a head ache remained, at least I wasn’t pregnant? It makes me wonder what leads doctors to doubt the information that women are providing them is true, and what contributes to their inklings that a woman is withholding potentially telling medical information.

Have you run into this experience with doctors?