How important is the gender of your health care provider? If you have a vagina, do you want to see someone who also has a vagina? Does the idea of seeing a male OB-GYN freak you out, or is it irrelevant to you as long as you’re getting the best care possible?
When I started asking cis women about their experiences with male gynecologists, I was largely expecting most of them to say they preferred to see a woman. Some did, of course.
“My guard is always up around men and masculinity,” one woman said. Another told me of seeing a male GYN who read to her from a prayer book and a male fertility doctor who “made it clear he didn’t have a cervix by how he treated mine.”
Some, like L, couldn’t necessarily articulate why they preferred to be seen by a woman. “I’ve had a female doctor condescend to me and try to go against my reproductive choices, and I’ve had a male doctor make gross and inappropriate comments, and both scenarios were rage-inducing in different ways, but still, I’d choose a female GYN.”
For the most part, though, the women I spoke with were pleased by their experiences with male gynecologists (no one I talked to had seen a trans provider, or at least they didn’t divulge it). “I get why some women prefer exclusively female providers, but I’ve been happy with my male providers due to that level of trust,” said M, who lives in New York City and continues to see him although she lives in a part of town that makes her travel well over an hour.
K has been seeing her male GYN for over 10 years. Initially, she saw a male internist and a female GYN, but then decided it wasn’t necessary to have separate doctors. “My family doctor reminds me a lot of my male friends who are family doctors, so maybe I assumed that he was similarly well-trained and self-aware. I also have a desire to make women’s health a standard part of health care overall… so I didn’t want to separate that part of it from the person who otherwise knows the most about my health, but that said, I’m not sure that I [would] be comfortable with just any male doctor doing an internal exam.”
J planned to give birth to her second child via C-section, and on the advice of her midwife, switched from her care to that of a physician. The midwife recommended a male OB, which surprised J since she would not have made that choice herself, but went with it because she trusted her midwife and because the female staff of the practice were less available.
“He was perfectly nice. I had no complaints, but he wasn’t going to be my best friend,” said J. “Then he was absolutely wonderful for the surgery — right on time and very reassuring. At the end of the surgery, he held my hand and looked me right in the eye and said something to me that was really touching. I have no recollection of what he said, just how he made me feel, and I was so grateful!” The touching remark didn’t surprise her because the doctor was a man, J said, but because it hadn’t been typical of her providers up until that point.
Trust and recommendations played a big role in women’s decisions to opt for a male GYN, particularly if that recommendation was coming from a woman, as it did in J’s case.
Kait’s mother, a uterine cancer survivor, suggested a male GYN for her to see. “I trusted that her experience wouldn’t steer me wrong. I am so grateful [for] that doctor who was empathetic, gentle and so helpful. I continued seeing him until I moved far away for graduate school, scheduling appointments on trips home from college and my first job.”
A bad experience with a female OB led Krista, who had only seen female doctors for her entire life, to opt for a male doctor. “I used to think it was weird for women to see a male OB, but I actually prefer it now,” she said. After a miscarriage followed by an incomplete D and C and what she describes a cold demeanor from her then-provider, Krista began seeing a male doctor after getting a recommendation from a friend.
Like finding the right therapist, finding the right doctor is often a matter of instinct dominating your decision-making, even if you had a set of parameters in mind, including gender. When Anne was looking for an OB to deliver her second child, she met a doctor who told her she “should keep going until you find someone you love.” After learning the doctor had sisters, a wife and daughters, she felt good about moving forward with him and got excellent care. “He did it in a way that respected my personal needs. He was insightful about the stage of life I was in and my role as wife and mother.”
The idea that the most important aspect of choosing an OB-GYN is that you share anatomy with them was something women who see male OB-GYNs understood, but weren’t particularly moved by. Most vital was the quality of care and the degree of comfort they felt with them, which ultimately, of course, is what we’re all looking for when we’re trusting someone with our health.