In 2018 there should be nothing preventing women from staying healthy and protected and receiving quality care from their gynecologists. Yet, many women still do not feel comfortable with their doctor and thus remain uninformed and unprotected when it comes to sexual health. I, personally, have heard many stories from my friends about negative experiences at the Gyno, in which doctors have made judgmental comments about things such as the number of sexual partners their patient has had or the age at which they lost their virginity. Reactions like this are harmful because they discourage women from being honest with their doctors, and thus prevent them from getting the best services and treatment possible to ensure they stay healthy and protected. It is extremely important that women share accurate medical information in order for their doctor to best help them. I wanted to find out the best ways for women to stayed informed and supported by their health care practitioners, particularly in this current political climate in which our rights to our own bodies are being threatened.
To further explore this topic from a professional perspective, I spoke with Dr. Debra Lebo, an obstetrician-gynecologist who works in San Diego, California. Dr. Lebo shared her advice for young women when it comes to sexual health and protection and finding the right gynecologist, as well with her concerns for the future of reproductive rights.
What do you think are some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a gynecologist?
“I think the most important thing is to find someone who is going to listen to you and who won’t be judgemental. Definitely someone with good training and experience, though most gynecologists already fit that criteria. You know, it can be hard to know if a doctor is going to be more conservative and less open-minded because that is not something that doctors advertise. I honestly think Planned Parenthood is a really great place for young people to go because we know the people that work there are not judgemental at all and they are always open to whatever the patient decides to do. I also think it can be helpful for women to get recommendations from friends and family. But Google and Yelp are definitely not good places to look for doctors because people mostly post on those forums when they are angry not to post positive reviews. So as far as finding a gynecologists goes, a good idea is to go based on recommendations from friends or to go to a place like Planned Parenthood.”
What are some of the main misconceptions about birth control, feminine hygiene, and sexual protection?
“When it comes to birth control I think the biggest barriers are people’s perceptions of the various types. They hear from friends or google that IUDs cause headaches or pills cause weight gain and without even talking to a doctor they make a decision. It’s really important to talk to your gynecologist first because they have the most accurate information. Not all people are the same and just because something happened to your friend doesn’t mean it is going to happen to you. Then of course, as far as hygiene is concerned, there is the issue of douching, but I think most women know now that you should not do that. Another thing is with condoms and STD protection. Many people don’t realize that Herpes and HPV are not prevented with condoms. You can still get those diseases while using condoms because they are all over the genital tract, especially HPV. Even if you don’t see lesions you can still contract it. Same thing with Herpes. Even without sores you can still contract it. The condom only protects a part of the genitals.”
Are there any things you would like to see change in our society with regards to sex, feminine and reproductive health, etc?
“This is kind of impossible to change but I wish people would not google their symptoms. People google their symptoms and convince themselves they have the worst diseases without even coming in to see a doctor. Once you get a diagnosis, like Herpes, from a doctor you should definitely do research online. But when people google their symptoms that is something all doctors cannot stand. I also hope people continue to have open discussions with their families. This has obviously gotten a lot better over the years but it is important because when kids can’t talk to their parents openly that is a problem. And I always told [my daughter] when she was young to make sure she told her friends that when you’re sexually active you can talk to a gynecologist and it is all confidential. I don’t know if young women know that.”
With this current Presidential Administration are you concerned you at all when it comes to the future of reproductive rights?
“Absolutely. With the confirmation of the new Supreme Court Justice I am afraid for the future of Roe v. Wade. Especially as a gynecologist I’m afraid because we have already seen in the past that women will get abortions whether or not they are legal but if it is not the procedures will be unsafe and cause infections or infertility issues or worse. Banning it does not make it go away. So yes, I am very concerned. It is also frustrating because the same people who want to overturn Roe v. Wade are the people who don’t want to pay for unwanted children and social services and Medicare and welfare for the poor. They want to make people who aren’t ready for children have kids and are not willing to help them. It doesn’t make sense to me at all.”
It is more important than ever for women to stay informed about their bodies and their options in order to stay healthy and protected. It is crucial that we all feel supported and respected by our health care practitioners, especially in such a scary time as this. Check out some resources below:
Planned Parenthood: to book an appointment call 1-800-230-PLAN and to find more information about birth control and other sexual and reproductive health visit https://www.plannedparenthood.org/
Image via Seventeen Magazine