When I went away to college, I never bothered to get a new gynecologist down in Los Angeles because I figured I would always just be able to go to the same woman I had been seeing for years. Well, a few years into college and I realized that there was no way I could come home for my annual one time, so I had to suck it up and go to a local gyno.
I was sitting in the office filling out the form and a really hot girl walked in. I smiled at her, forgetting where I was momentarily, and she quickly looked at the floor, grabbed a magazine, and sat down. Oh well. I went back to my form. Let’s see. Medication allergies? None. Existing conditions? Nope. Then it got to the uncomfortable stuff:
“How many sexual partners have you had in the last six months?”
Here we go….”One” (My first girlfriend)
“Are you currently taking birth control?” The form asked me. Uhhhhhh—No.
“If not, what form of contraception do you use?” I hesitated, then checked “none.”
“Are you pregnant or trying to become pregnant?” Hell to the no!
And so on.
They finally called me and I followed the nurse into a small, sterile room in which she took my weight and height and then asked me again (they always do for some reason).
“Are you sexually active?”
“What birth control method do you use?”
She looked up from her clipboard, fixed me with a stare that was midway between shocked and judging, mumbled “Ooookay…” and scribbled something on my file.
She walked to the door, started to open it, hesitated and turned to me.
“You know, you might want to consider birth control if you’re having regular sex. You don’t want any pregnancy scares!”
“I’m a lesbian.”
“………..Oh. *awkward pause* well, um, I guess you’re okay then! The, uh, the doctor will see you shortly.”
And she promptly left.
When the actual doctor came in the room, I explained once again that I sleep with women and that I figured that this was probably a pretty effective birth control method. Luckily I live in California and have yet to experience an overtly homophobic doctor. One even joked about “the dirty dick” as the root of all women’s sexual health problems and said I was lucky that I didn’t have to deal with it. However, I have heard doctors tell me on occasion, “Well, in case you ever start having sex with men again, please remember to use condoms!” Um, thanks for the advice. And they always always ask if I have slept with men in the past or if I plan to again (ten years sober and counting!). And aside from the barely-concealed surprised looks that I always get when visiting a new physician, it is absolutely shocking what they do not know about lesbian sex or sexual health. Let me tell you a story.
A year after this experience in LA, I went home to northern California for winter break and per usual crammed a bunch of doctor appointments into two weeks. This resulted in a rather bizarre morning of oral surgery on a root canal followed once again by a visit to my gynecologist. By the time I got to the gyno (my mom had to drive me because I was so hopped up on meds) I was in a bit of a – shall we say – state. Pain medication is not a joke.
Now, this gynecologist I’ve known for years. She also sees my mother, my aunt, my other aunt, and my sister. Which means she has seen all the vaginas in my family. Which is weird. Anyway. I feel pretty comfortable around Dr. Kalitis (name changed for protection—ha—protection!) and as I climbed into the stirrups I decided I was going to ask her something that I had as of yet been too afraid to ask all my other gynos. She was in the middle of a pap smear when I blurted out, semi-slurred:
“So….what exactly do you know about lesbian sex?”
She blinked at me and looked up.
“You know, what we do. And for that matter, do you know what we can catch, you know, STD-wise? Like, what am I particularly at risk for, and what do I not have to worry about?”
She sat up, took off her glasses and just sort of looked at me. Then she put her elbows on her knees and said,
“To be totally honest, Katie. They never taught us that.”
“The professors. In med school. Back when I was going to school no one even talked about gay people. It was not in the curriculum at all, so I really have no idea what to tell you.”
“Well do you want to know about lesbian sex? Because I can—I don’t know—tell you I guess. And then you can tell me what I can catch. Forgive me, I had a root canal this morning.”
My doctor actually seemed interested in hearing what I had to say. She told me that, based on what I had said, the good news is lesbians are extremely low-risk for HIV but that we can transmit HPV, herpes, etc. if we aren’t careful. I already knew most of this, but it seemed to be a revelation for her, and she declared that med schools need to catch up with the times and include gay people in their discussion of STDs (or STIs as they are now called).
But lezbehonest, who amongst the gay ladies is a regular user of dental dams and latex gloves? The answer is zero. I can’t think of any lesbian who regularly practices “safe sex,” whatever that means for us. The best advice I can think of is, wash your fucking hands. And don’t be an idiot?
When I became an AP Biology teacher a few years after this appointment, I made a very clear mission of being extremely inclusive in our sex-ed unit in class. And I had countless students coming up to me after school and thanking me for not limiting our discussion and curriculum to a strictly hetero “pregnancy and STD scare” shock-fest that is the unfortunate norm in this country. Wouldn’t it be great if some actual medical professionals pushed to cement this into our school’s curricula, and most importantly, into medical school textbooks?
I guess overall my experiences at the gyno has taught me a few things: 1) don’t ever assume that anyone is straight 2) kids need to learn comprehensive and inclusive sex ed from the first time it is introduced in schools, and 3) don’t ask your doctor uncomfortable questions while under the influence of painkillers unless you want to have an impromptu education session on your sex life.
Now when I’m at the gyno, when it asks me what form of birth control, I simply write “lesbian,” smile to myself, and wait for the inevitable questions that follow. I am a teacher after all.
Read Katie Boyden’s previous article, The Five Myths of Lesbian Sex.