Cheers, Doc.

// 22 August 2010

Tags: ,

I went to see my GP a while back as I’d been having a number of mildly unpleasant downstairs issues and the usual at-home treatments didn’t seem to be working.

(I realise the state of my ladybits is probably not exactly what you wanted to read about on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but I’m in a sharing mood – and do actually have a relevant feminist point to make – so I’ll crack on.)

Mostly, I was worried that there might be something seriously wrong with me, but not being able to have penetrative sex with my partner was also getting pretty tiresome. After going through the various symptoms and my concerns with the doctor, she decided (perhaps just as a way of making conversation, who knows) to ask how my boyfriend was coping without sex. I’m not quite sure what she expected me to say, “Oh, you know, while I’m freaking out because I can barely fit a tampon up there, he’s mooching around in front of the Xbox with a face like thunder because I won’t let him play with his second favourite toy. Men!”

Funnily enough, my partner didn’t want to continue doing something that physically hurt me. If anything, he was more sensible about the situation than I was, and has been nothing but caring and supportive.

But according to our messed up sexual norms, I have no sexual desire (other than to be desired) and he’s incapable of empathy because his brain’s in his dick. Oh, and there’s no such thing as non-penetrative sex. Don’t you hate it when you can’t even do something as simple as go see a doctor without this rubbish turning up?

I stomped out of the surgery with even more irritation than when I went in.

Image by Chegs, shared under a Creative Commons license.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 22 August 2010 at 6:24 pm

But that is precisely what heterosex is all about – it is about men penetrating a woman on demand, irrespective of whether or not she wants to engage in this type of activity because saying ‘no’ means the woman is suffering from the pseudo medical disorder. What is that? Why it is female sexual dysfunction of course.

Sex is not ‘sex’ unless penetration occurs. Oh and another thing, sex is not ‘sex’ unless and until the male achieves his goal which is to be sexually pleasured via putting his penis in the female body.

That is why the doctor asked how your male partner was ‘coping’ since according to phallocentric myths men must have regular penetrative sex at least once a day in order to maintain their ‘manhood.’

A few men, however do not subscribe to phallocentricism or heterosexism which presumes women cannot experience sexual desire only ‘to be desired.’ ‘Sex’ is not just penetrative it also includes other activities which patriarchal myths claim to be ‘foreplay’ but which surprisingly some men find just as pleasurable if not more so. Likewise many women prefer non-penetrative sex and no this does not mean they are ‘frigid’ etc.

But the medical profession is rigidly phallocentric and even though women are medical doctors, this does not mean they have escaped being indoctrinated into phallocentric myths concerning male and female sexuality.

There are a number of reasons why a woman experiences pain when the male attempts to penetrate and no, none of them are due to ‘lack of female desire or frigidity.’

Anon anon // Posted 22 August 2010 at 6:59 pm

I was treated similarly by my (female) doctor, who implied I wasn’t trying hard enough to have penetrative sex and suggested that I “have a glass of wine to relax” beforehand. Not helpful.

Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 22 August 2010 at 7:00 pm

Very brave to post this thanks. I can’t stand how some doctors treat sexual issues. You must have felt really upset and frustrated. Dont know if you go on twitter but @drpetra is a really good blogger and sex ed academic who is a good source of info, and anger at this kind of approach by docs.

But Jennifer D, I have to disagree with your analysis. Many men do not have this ‘phallocentric’ view of sex. Some even prefer non= piv types of sex.

Kate // Posted 22 August 2010 at 10:10 pm

Have you considered reporting that doctor to the General Medical Council? That is completely unacceptable.

Also, have you thought about insisting on seeing another doctor? (I say this because I should have done that a long time ago, rather than putting up with an idiotic doctor that didn’t listen to my problems) I would hope that someone else would be more helpful.

I’m sorry you’ve had such a horrible experience with your GP. None of us need that, especially when we’re feeling worried or vulnerable.

Pamela // Posted 22 August 2010 at 10:28 pm

Hi. I am new here – and I have spend 20 years as a patient advocate around fertility issues. Thank you for your sharing. I am curious about one thing that appears in your blog – and in the comments. It was really hard for me as a feminist woman to admit to my desire to be desired. It is a really big core erotic theme for me – and it was very embarrassing for me to finally understand it – and give up my shame around. I just think we have to be careful not to judge each other’s sexuality – it is too easy for us to fall to shame. And in that – none of us win.


Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 22 August 2010 at 10:33 pm

just chatted to @drpetra she said could you see the practice nurse instead or another doc? raise the issue with the surgery?

Tessa // Posted 23 August 2010 at 12:05 pm

A friend of mine went to see her GP about vaginal dryness. The GP (a woman) showed zero interest until she said ‘I can’t have sex with my husband lately’. Wow! Did that doc suddenly wake up and start prescribing!

I once went to my GP with a skin rash, and she asked how my boyfriend was coping with it! I managed to say that I thought that was an inappropriate question. I could see her thinking, ”feminist!’

Laura // Posted 23 August 2010 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for all the comments so far. I should point out that I’m ok now; I saw another GP and a gynaecologist (who was also irritating in her own way – told me there was nothing wrong and ignored my own personal assessment of my body, wouldn’t let me finish a sentence as she was too busy with what she wanted to do and ask, not what I wanted to talk about) and things have cleared up.

@ Pamela – I agree, no one should be made to feel bad about their sexuality, and I certainly don’t think that there’s anything wrong with wanting to be desired or getting turned on by being desired. My point was rather that the social norm for female sexuality is one of performance and being an object, rather than a desiring subject.

Elena // Posted 23 August 2010 at 2:02 pm

Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding the situation or have misread, but I don’t understand just what is so irritating about this.

You told the doctor that not being able to have penetrative sex was a concern; the doctor asked how this affected the other person in the relationship.

It might have been done clumsily, but I think I’d want my GP to address a problem holistically and understand the effect on my quality of life.

For all she knew, your partner might have been someone to put pressure on you or treat you badly if PIV-sex was unavailable, which is a problem in itself, or might even have been the cause of your symptoms.

Is there more to this that you have not described, or did you just get wound up by one question?

Lynne Miles // Posted 23 August 2010 at 4:30 pm

Just wanted to say that this post made me laugh out loud! Really sorry about your hoo-haa but thanks for making my day :)

Dr H // Posted 23 August 2010 at 4:45 pm

As a feminist, I am appalled by the phrase used when you were asked about how your boyfriend was feeling about your gynaecological issues impacting on your sex life. However, as a trainee GP myself, I have to support the GP for exploring that area.

Most problems seen in general practice have a psycho-social aspect to them and GPs have a duty to take this into consideration. A problem that affects a person’s sex life may cause relationship difficulties and strain. A patient may not be particularly bothered about this side of the problem, but their partner is and is hassling them to get it ‘sorted’.

A good GP explores this with the patient to enable them to offer the best possible care. Unfortunately, the words used to do so in your case were insensitive and ill-advised, and may have been no more than a slip of the tongue by an otherwise lovely GP (I know I’ve created some awkward situations in my time through some unfortunate use of language). If you feel this needs raising with the individual GP or the practice as a whole, send a letter to your GP or the practice manager.

Laura // Posted 23 August 2010 at 6:06 pm

@ Elena and Dr H. – Those are exellent points that I hadn’t considered – thank you! I think my frustration mostly came from the tone in which she put the question – it did come across as a kind of jokey, conversational question and she asked it after we’d finished the “serious” discussion. But it may well be that she was just trying to check the relationship was OK and felt that was the best way to do so.

Lou // Posted 24 August 2010 at 9:43 am


Was your doctor older? Because I tend to find the younger the doctor, the more open they are to discussing those kind of issues, regardless of sex. At my clinic I avoid the older doctors-ironic because one is only a couple of years older then me- because they tend to get uncomfortable and leap straight to STI testing (despite having no sex since the last).

When i had extreme dryness cause by the pill, none of the older doctors were willing to help more then say ‘use lube’-extremely unhelpful when I’m in agony just walking. It was the youngest doctor who examined me, listened to me keenly and prescribed a water-based pessary as well as insisting I swear off sex for a week.

The ‘sex life question’ was badly phrased and stupidly put, but it is important for them to ask a similar question and relate to whether your problems are livable but annoying *or* getting you down and depressed. Mainly because using those termininologies-at least within the NHS- tends to free up more money or puts you higher up their priority line.

Prostate Cancer Sufferer's Partner // Posted 24 August 2010 at 11:10 am

It is terribly sad both for men and women that doctors focus so much on the penetrative side of sex. I suppose in their defence that is the medical definition of sex – the actual reproductive bit. I say it’s sad for both men and women because my partner had a radical prostatectomy and is now incurably and permanently impotent. It is such a disempowering thing not to be able to achieve penetration that for many men they don’t even want to try non-penetrative sexual contact – despite the fact that it could be rewarding and satisfying. I don’t want to turn this into a what about da menz thing, but I do feel very sorry that the medical profession see only the mechanical penetrative side of sex rather than enquiring if their patients are otherwise enjoying some degree of sexual intimacy, and I feel sorry for both sexes in that, not just for us women.

carol // Posted 24 August 2010 at 1:17 pm

@Lou I understand that you’re trying to be helpful in your comment but you’re being a bit ageist in your dismissal of older doctors.

I have an older male GP and he has been the easiest to talk to about gyne issues of all the GPs I’ve had- male or female. He’s less embarrassed, less judgemental and more interested in treating me as a whole human being.

I mistakenly thought for years that a female doctor would suit my feminist sensibilities best and sought them out. But you can’t judge if a doctor’s going to be right for you by gender or age.

Plus I caused myself pain after making assumptions about doctors’ focus on PIV sex. They said not to have sex for three weeks, I assumed they only meant penetrative so indulged in other activities. Result was not good.

@Laura although you said you’re OK now did you speak to your doctor about what she said and why you thought it unacceptable?

Laura // Posted 24 August 2010 at 7:46 pm

@ Lou, no she wasn’t much older than me.

@ carol, I should have brought it up, but I didn’t fancy getting into a debate just before she was going to examine me! Overall she was nice and helpful, so it wasn’t really a complaining issue for me, more one of those everyday examples of how you can’t get away from (what I interpreted as) patriarchal attitudes.

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