Why Is A Woman’s Marital Status A Concern To Obstetrician-Gynaecologist?

marital status, unmarried women and gynaecologists
Recently a tweet by a practising gynaecologist went viral. In the tweet, the doctor said that marital status is “imperative” for a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. She claimed that the question “Are you married” which disturbs the ‘woke’ women is not necessarily proof of sexual activity. Marital status is just another history of the patient required before any treatment. The doctor also said that not all women are comfortable with ‘progressive’ questions like, “Are you sexually active.” And the pressure of attending 100s of patients is too much to judge the sexual life of a woman.

The tweet received a lot of flak calling it out as an ‘uneducated tweet’ from an educated doctor. Twitter users, especially women, were uncomfortable with her claim that the marital status of a patient is important for an Obstetrician-Gynaecologist (OB-GYN) to know before starting a treatment. Many recalled their experience of being judged by the ObGyn on the basis of their sexual life. One of the users also said that it is because of this mindset of OB-GYNs that many girls fear seeking treatment.

The tweet was also called out for depicting doctors’ lack of empathy when they treat their patients. Twitter users claimed that nowadays doctors don’t even give two minutes to the patient to convey their problems. Some even write the prescription without looking at the patient. In that case, it is not shocking for OB-GYN to not care about how their behaviour might impact their patients.

Referring to marital status as imperative in the treatment of women shows how OB-GYNs conform to the societal idea of marriage being a certificate of having a sex life. Gynaecologists, knowingly or unknowingly, end up shaming and judging women by hiding questions of sexual activity in marital status. Suppose a woman is sexually active despite being married. Wouldn’t she feel guilty when the gynaecologist coalesces sex with marriage? Wouldn’t she fear being judged, criticised and ‘exposed’ to parents and society for her ‘immoral’ deed? Amidst that fear, will the woman be able to communicate her problem with the doctor without hesitation?

Visiting a gynaecologist has become a challenge for women in our society, especially the unmarried ones. The question of sex life and virginity doesn’t remain a part of the history of a patient required for the treatment. Rather, it becomes a ground to judge the character of a woman.  Recently a case was reported in which a gynaecologist revealed to a woman’s parents that she was sexually active. In a 2018 report, a gynaecologist threatened a woman to tell her parents that she was sexually active.

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Many gynaecologists refuse to abort the child of a woman if she is unmarried. As a consequence, rates of unsafe abortions see a high peak in our country risking the lives of the women. Moreover, many women are not aware that they suffer from PCOD as most of them were apprehensive about visiting a gynaecologist. More than the health risk, women are afraid of the uncomfortable questions and scrutinisation of gynaecologists.

But is this fair? Don’t women deserve to freely seek medical help without any fear? Why is being sexually active perceived from a moral lens rather than a medical one? Why does the sexual life of a woman become seditious in every situation? Must doctors let the stigma and stereotypes by society impact their relations with their patients? Isn’t it the doctor’s role to bust the myths of gender discrimination using their vast knowledge of biology? Because of the internalised misogyny, should doctors compromise their ethics of treating patients without any discrimination and protecting their personal information?

Even in the case of seeking contraception, marital status is not necessary. The doctor said in her tweet that she recommends permanent and temporary contraception based on the marital status of a patient. But doesn’t this show the stereotype that only married couples can have permanent contraception? Do married couples owe the responsibility of giving a child to the family and society? Shouldn’t the type of contraception depend on the choice of the woman rather than marital status?

The overturning of abortion laws in the US is an example of how moral codes precede medical needs. It proves once again that curbing a woman’s choice over her body is no big issue to preserve the morality of society. Even though we as Indians have abortion laws, our fate is no different from the women in the US. It is 2022 but still, women’s bodies in India are regulated by patriarchy, not their autonomy or legal rights.

So dear doctors, stop letting social stereotypes cloud your medical expertise. You hold the responsibility of healing women with sexual health issues that they rarely talk about. Women already have to fight and escape from gendered judgements in society. If doctors too let gender discrimination thrive in their clinics, where will women go for help? It is undeniable that doctors have a lot of pressure on a daily basis. But will their treatment be sufficient if it is smeared with patriarchy and lack of empathy?

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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