Today in medical misogyny, French gynecologists have reportedly instructed women with complications from faulty pelvic mesh to try anal sex instead of painful vaginal penetration.
Wait, what? How did we even get to this point? Let’s back up a bit.
Complications with pelvic mesh is unfortunately an all-too-common experience for women with pelvic health issues. As we age — and after childbirth — our pelvic floors weaken, sometimes leading to pelvic organ prolapse, when an organ in your pelvis (like your bladder) can no longer be supported by your pelvic floor muscles and drops so it’s up against the wall of your vagina.
Treating pelvic floor disorders, including prolapse, is tricky, and usually involves some sort of device or material that tries to mimic the pelvic floor muscles to keep the organs in place. One such material is pelvic mesh — which is also used to treat stress urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control after movement, sneezing, laughing, etc.). The problem is, pelvic mesh comes with some pretty serious side effects for many women, including pain, infection, bleeding, damage to nearby organs and painful vaginal sex.
Which brings us to the unsolicited anal sex advice. These reported comments surfaced in emails between French gynecologists and a Johnson & Johnson marketing manager referenced during a class-action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical giant, which manufactures the faulty pelvic mesh in question. The lawsuit was initiated by Australian women who claim to be experiencing “chronic and debilitating pain” as a result of the device.
The emails reference the doctors’ unease about discussing sexual matters with middle-aged women, including alternatives to painful vaginal penetration.
“It is no less true that sodomy could be a good alternative!” one doctor wrote.
Another doctor wrote about trying to psych himself into having conversations with his patients about their sexual well-being.
“I said to myself, there you go, for your next prolapse [patient], you talk to her about orgasms. OK! But also about fellatio, sodomy, the clitoris with or without G-spot etc,” he wrote. “I am sure of one thing: that I would very quickly be treated like some kind of sex maniac (which, perhaps, I am) or a pervert, or an unhealthily curious person.”
Doctors not taking the sexual fulfillment of middle-aged women seriously is hardly news, but when the Australian women affected by the faulty pelvic mesh read the contents of these emails, they spoke out about why this attitude toward their sexual health is so troubling. In fact, many women (speaking anonymously) reported to Guardian Australia that they had heard similar comments — including suggestions to switch to anal sex — from their own doctors.
“Our vaginas have been abused by mesh and now doctors are suggesting our anus be abused. Despicable! Only a misogynist could think this way,” one told Guardian Australia.
A second woman said that she was “gobsmacked” by the sexual advice from her doctor, noting that she finds the suggestion that anal sex “is supposed to make the pain and complications from the mesh go away” disgusting.
This attitude toward women’s bodies devalues a woman’s right to an active sex life as a fulfilled participant, reinforcing the idea that we’re “nothing more than a receptacle to satisfy men and that ‘any hole will do,’” a third woman remarked. Amen, sister.
Another woman told ABC Australia that her doctor’s reaction to her complaining about painful vaginal sex as a result of the pelvic mesh was, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Look, there’s certainly nothing wrong with anal sex — many women enjoy it. That’s not the issue here. The problem is the pervasive notion that women’s pain isn’t a big deal and just part of our lot in life and that our sexual satisfaction comes second to that of men.
If men required the equivalent of pelvic mesh, you’d better believe that by 2017, someone would have come up with a material that not only effectively treats the condition, but has no negative impact on their sex lives. But we’re dealing with women here, so both pain and having a fulfilling sex life are trivialized.
We need to take a page out of the Australian women’s playbook and speak out about these disparities and allegedly “uncomfortable” subjects until our pelvic health — including sexual satisfaction — is taken seriously.