I was 18 when I first went to a gynaecologist, a female gynae of course because my mom found the thought of going to a male gynae (even though he was more experienced) very distressing. After the check-up she looked at me and asked, “Good beta, not married, right?”. “Of course not, doctor,” replied my mom, looking a bit concerned. “Nothing to worry, she’s a healthy girl but do bring her for regular check-ups, OK?”. “Alright doctor!” replied my dutiful mother.
And I met her again after a year when I was 19. I wasn’t a virgin anymore. My boyfriend and I had tried different positions, a few toys and even a few lubricants (word of advice: never, I repeat, never ever use whipped cream!). Some nine months after I had been sexually active I ended up with a minor infection in my vaginal area. The only person I could think of was the gynae I’d visited a year earlier.
I went without my mother this time, reached a couple of minutes early and waited while she finished with another patient. After a short while, she peeked through the door of her room, greeted me with a familiar smile and invited me inside. “How’re you doing? It’s been a long time,” she asked with the kind of put-on concern that only comes with practice. “I’ve been well. I came to see you about an infection.”
The gynae furrowed her brows as soon as I mentioned an infection and asked me to tell more about it. After I gave her a detailed description of the kind of horrors I’d gone through over the past few days, she directed me to the examination chair. She examined my vagina and poked around for a bit. And after a few minutes, she asked, “Did you get married, beta?”. “No,” I replied adding, “It’s been itching for quite some time and I believe it was caused by this whipped cream that I used during sex.”
“You’re not married?,” she asked again. It was as if she had not heard anything I’d said after that. “No, I’m not. But this infection though…,” I rambled on. She simply shook her head in disbelief and walked back to her table in silence. Taking cue, I got up, got dressed and followed her. She handed me a prescription and looked me right in the eye and said, “Does your mother know that you’re sexually active?”. That’s when I got a whiff of what was going on. I mumbled something vague about my mom knowing my boyfriend really well and got up to make a quick exit. Just as I was about to step out of the room, I heard her voice behind me. It was stern and a little louder than usual, “You better stop these bad ways young lady. Think about your parents and the society. You young girls need to stop getting influenced by the foreign cultures...”. I never stopped to listen to the rest of that rant. And I never went back to her.
I don’t know how many of you have had a similar experience, but for me it was scarring. I went to her with a real problem. A fungal infection, which I later learned, could even happen to women who are not sexually active and one that can be cured with a few pills in a couple of days. I was, instead, subjected to a regressive rant and was judged by a woman - an educated woman, no less. Someone whose profession is to help women with their medical issues.
It took me a long time to visit another gynaecologist after that. I only went because I had a similar infection that wasn’t reacting to the medicines I’d taken. He went about his work like a professional without judging me.
Every woman in India needs a gynae who doesn’t judge her. One who doesn’t let society, religion, tradition or culture to come in the way of medical practice. Because if a doctor believes that these things define a woman, then we might as well all start self-medicating ourselves based on magic and self-styled godmen rituals.