If you’re an adult with a vagina, chances are you’ve had a stranger examine parts of yourself that, even with the most skillful maneuvering of a hand mirror, you’ll probably never see. These encounters are bearable at best and traumatizing at worst. Nobody wants a cold, metal duckbill yawning up at their cervix.
I myself have had my fair share of bizarre “women’s health” appointments, the most notable of which involved a pap test gone awry when my doctor’s penlight died at the beginning of the exam. Frustrated, she went to get the charging cable from another room (apparently her light was like an old iPhone, unable to hold a charge for long) but it still wouldn’t work when she plugged it in. Feet stirruped, I watched her shake and whack the light, the best way to fix a piece of medical equipment. Giving up, she left the room a second time but forgot to CLOSE THE DOOR. It was only open a crack, but so was my vagina, and so I quickly shielded my exposed parts (poorly) with that weird paper skirt they give you. I don’t know why I didn’t just take my feet out of the stirrups. I felt paralyzed, like a turtle on its back, about to give birth.
When the doctor came back she was carrying a five-foot-tall floor lamp, which she brusquely plugged in and aimed at my crotch without acknowledging that this was somewhat unorthodox. She prodded around for a few moments, inserted the speculum, cranked it open, and then announced that I’d just started my period.
“I can’t complete the exam,” she said, inconvenienced by my bleeding uterus and clearly annoyed. “Come back in a week or so,” she added.
But I didn’t. Because I needed time to process, or something? I don’t know. I’ll go back soon. I promise. Maybe.
Out of an impulse to commiserate, VICE asked women and non-binary folks for stories of their most awkward gynecologist encounters. Note: this is not meant to discourage you from seeing a lady doctor. It’s important and you should go. But also, just be ready.
I was spotting irregularly which always makes me a little paranoid, so I went to a gynecologist at a free women’s walk-in clinic. The doctor was a woman maybe a little older than me and she had this fresh, enthusiastic sunny vibe. I get a little nervous exposing my lady flora and fauna at the doctors but she was focussed, got right in there and up there and said my IUD was in perfect placement. “It all looks really good in there. Good job,” she said like she was my mother congratulating me for cleaning my room.
Then a little awkward silence ensued as she inserted a cotton swab for the pap test. I stared at the ceiling tiles. “You know Selena Gomez has lupus,” she all of a sudden said, digging right in and up there. “She seems like a really cool person. I wish she wasn’t dating that Justin Bieber.”
I wanted to tell her thinking about Justin Bieber while she was at the mouth of my crotch felt odd but I just said, “Yeah, he peed in a bucket once and got arrested.”
“Selena Gomez doesn’t tour in Canada enough,” the doctor continued. “It’s just not enough. Okay this will hurt a little bit. Have you heard her new song?”
It did hurt a little bit. “‘Fetish’? No.”
“It’s not that good. ‘Come and Get It’ was her best.”
“I completely agree.”
“OK, you’re all set. You should listen to ‘Fetish’ on your way home. See what you think.”
And then she removed her latex gloves, Purelled her hands and left me half-naked with thoughts of Selena and Justin on a red carpet somewhere. So there you have it—the most I’ve ever thought about and discussed Selena Gomez in my whole life was with this gynecologist.
I did listen to ‘Fetish’ on my way home. The Doctor was right. ‘Come and Get It’ is way better.
For safety and simplicity, I had not disclosed my nonbinary identity/pronouns in my interactions with healthcare professionals at the time. I was 21 and having concerns about endometriosis, due to debilitating cramps and progressively worsening abdominal aches.
Beyond over-the-counter painkillers, the female physician at my college could not help me but understood my distrust of oral birth control. She referred me to a male gynecologist, which I didn’t really give much of a thought for my first visit, but I remember feeling relief to see his glowing 4.5/5 star reviews on RateMDs.com.
On the examination table, my body dissociated to witness the middle-aged white man lecturing me about how ovulation worked and how the Mirena IUD helped to suppress pain, gesturing at a poster of my reproductive system with a pointer stick, while over-enunciating every word. The highly rated gynecologist went on his way in the hurried manner of a walk-in clinic physician, and I knew already that I wouldn’t be able to afford it and never gave the pamphlet another look beyond that day.
On my way to class months later, I was suddenly not able to walk due to the sharp, raw stabbing pain and I hailed a cab to the ER. I had been too busy with my daily routine to take care of the pain since it came and went with my cycle.
At the hospital, pelvic examinations were done on me, first by a female triage nurse, which included ‘gently’ pressing down on my lower abdomen, which determined that there was likely an ovarian cyst. Moments later, a male resident walked into the treatment room, along with a scrawnier male intern. The resident repeated the pelvic examination that the nurse had just done to ‘confirm’ that there was indeed a cyst there, and then asked if it would be OK if the intern could repeat the vaginally invasive procedure. Was it his first time on the floor or something? I had the option to say no, but instead I politely obliged to this hands-on, teaching moment, while I was experiencing a searing 9 out of 10 pain.
The mini-me cautiously snapped on the latex gloves, and awkwardly squirted the medical lube onto them. His imprecise movements inside of my vagina made me cringe, along with the fact that he kept making eye contact with me on and off, as if he didn’t know how much of it was appropriate, or if he was maybe thinking about accidentally trying to arouse me, or himself.
Outside the hallway, I could vaguely hear the resident noting on the intern’s simulations while I sat bewildered and repulsed in the treatment room. The cyst ended up rupturing while I waited for the good painkillers.
I was told about the Women's Center by my roommate who said she had a lovely experience there. This felt like just what the doctor ordered for my lady cave. I phoned in and ordered the "physical" as it had been several years since I’d had one. When I got there, I went in right away and sat on the always too tall doctor chaise, sizing up the stirrups while I waited, and trying to recall what pair of underwear I had put on.
My female doctor came in and to my surprise she was not an old war nurse whose face was hardened by the Great Depression but a young, hip lady who was by the looks of things, my age. She was very nice and normal which put me at ease. I warned her it had been a while and she said you only have to come in every three years or so, which meant I was perfectly on schedule. She was so easy to talk to that I found myself chatting with her like we were at brunch. She told me to lay down and spread my legs, and without hesitation I responded "you gotta buy me dinner first." We laughed and shared a friendship that felt like forever but had really been seven minutes at best. Seven minutes in heaven with my bestie. The only downside was my down side being prodded by a cold pair of terminator claws but it went pretty quick. She told me she was new to Vancouver and I told her I had recently moved as well. I was sad that our appointment was over but I went home feeling good about checking my box off the to-do list.
A few days later I received what looked like my gyno gal pal friend requesting me on Facebook. I wasn't 100 percent sure it was her but it sure looked like her, and the name was familiar. I didn't accept the request because I thought that might be weird, and to this day I don't know if it was her. I never went back (because it hasn't been three years yet) but let me tell you it was certainly the weirdest friend request I'd ever received. Tina Fey considers her gyno part of her squad, and I regret not including mine!
I was living in Cincinnati and I was Okcupiding. For a lot of dark reasons I won’t go into, I was sharing my entire medical history with strangers online. I was chatting with a med student about a discovery I’d made in my basement region. I described to him what was going on. He wrote, “I’m just a rando on okc, but you definitely have Syphilis!!”
So, the next day, I go to Urgent Care because I never know where to take my vagina or who to trust it with. Into the exam room hobbles an old, wizened doctor with hands the color of maps. He reaches down, reads my body braille, comes up and states: “I’ve been practicing medicine for 35 years… and I’ve never seen that before.”
Sooo, I make an appointment with the original pussy people, Planned Parenthood and go and take all the tests. Then they sit you down in a conference room to ask you all the, “How did we get here?” questions. My practitioner comes in and goes, “Why did you order the full menu?” as in why did I order ALL the tests.
“Because Internet Doogie Howser told me I def had capital S. Here—” I take out my phone, because like a good Millennial, I took a picture of my crotch. What I’m about to show her looks like the Mars rover landing, and so I gently swipe our way into it: latte art, latte art, aerial shot of my naked torso—cool. So cool. Not even a good one. One with, like, a Blair Witch filter. “I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t worry, I’ve seen it all,” she shrugs.
“No. That sorry is for me.”
We get to Mars, she lights up with recognition. “Oh that? That’s not syphilis, it’s this totes normal thing that shows up, and then leaves, and prob won’t come back.” I was so relieved I forgot the actual word she said. It was legit just a cyst.
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