Anybody Can join
Doctors who Distress
Published: 8 September, 2011
Listed in General health, Women's rights
The topic of sex is definitely a taboo in Bangladesh. No one wants to be the one to mention that dreaded word in a conversation, especially not the 'un-marrieds'.
Even I was skeptical about writing about anything sex-related. What would the gaggles of Khalas', Mamis' and Apas' say? I can just hear their 'chi-chis' now. It almost makes me nervous.
After putting a lot of thought into it and deciding that if I paid attention to all the negative thoughts of 'Aunties United', I would never get anything done!
When I first moved back to Dhaka, I was shocked to learn that no one here got annual gynecological check-ups. I was answered with dirty looks and snide remarks about how those were only necessary for (pardon my use of the word) 'sluts'.
"Bengali women only need to go to the women's health doctor after marriage." This was a statement made by modern, educated woman!
I tried to argue the fact that millions of women worldwide were able to get treated for issues that could have caused them to be infertile, or worse, die in the future, because they were not diagnosed in time. I even wanted to shout out the question ," You mean to say that ALL Bengali women are virgins before marriage?" but refrained, as I felt that arguing with this particular woman would be a waste of my time.
Three years have passed since that awful conversation. I have spoken to numerous women to try to find the answers to my questions. Yes, some single Bengali women are indeed having unprotected sex with different partners, whether they admit it or not. Women from all kinds of backgrounds, the rich and the poor, the educated and/or the class five graduates do engage in sexual relations before getting married.
Having sex is not the problem – the problem lies in the silence we practice in our society about the whole issue. Sometimes it feels like we are living in a warped version of a Jane Austen novel! This is especially true when it comes to women's health as this is intricately connected to their reproductive system. Women themselves love to stay mum about the entire topic.
The next question for me was-Why do women with the education and the access not talk about or seek regular medical help? Why do women with the education and the access not talk about or seek regular medical help? A couple of personal experiences as well as the view of some friends helped shed some light about why women won't tread to the dark side of the gynecologist's office. It’s not because of the cold stirrups, or the gooey ultrasound gel, and neither because of the incomprehensible nurse! Women don’t go because of gynecologists themselves! Their stares are colder than stirrups used, their attitudes are less comprehensive than any first year nurse, and their questions are nastier than a tub of that green methanol gel!
It is a very nerve- wracking experience to be a single woman who seeks gynecological assistance in Dhaka. They can pick the fanciest hospital and the best reputed doctor, but, the results are often the same. The nonsense starts as soon as one walks into the doctor's office and is asked, " Are you married?"
If the woman says no, does the doctor just assume that she is a virgin? In that case, what happens to the host of problems a sexually active single woman may be facing? Do they just get ignored? Even virgins and sexually non-active women, are susceptible to ovarian cysts, cervical cancer and several other complications. Are our doctors just going to pretend they don't know that? Interesting.
In an ideal world, the doctor would have began the session by asking the patient if is she is sexually active. But, no! Why are so many doctors' ashamed to use those words? God forbid the patient who wants to be open about her sexual history. The doctor will most likely make them feel that they should be ashamed of themselves and feel dirty.
This brings to mind a friend of mine who had typhoid and who was faced with a barrage of questions from her doctor, after she admitted that she had sex with her boyfriend of a few years. Instead of educating the patient about typhoid, the doctor was more interested to know why a 27 year old was having consensual sex with someone whom she deeply cared about. My friend returned home with her head swimming with thoughts of the free anti-sex 'counseling' the doctor had so kindly provided and no wiser about the actual illness that affected her.
Do we really need judgmental doctors? A simple diagnosis would do, thank you.
After speaking candidly to some of my married friends, I learned that the doctors are just as uncomfortable around them. They prefer to beat around the bush, (pun intended) and ask the patients, "When was the last time you made relations?" A cousin of mine laughingly recalls being asked if she had made " contact" . What does that even mean? What is beyond my understanding is that a medical doctor who is trained in handling women’s reproductive system has a difficult time saying the word “sex” out loud! What kind of doctors are these exactly?
Educated women like us at least have access to books and the internet or other sources of information from friends and families. But I shiver to think what happens to the millions of the young and older women who have no access to a decent “lady doctor” or materials for self-education.
Thousands of young women are terrified of visiting a gynecologist when they find themselves pregnant or have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. This often results in tragedy. Women have committed suicide or even secretly given birth under horrible conditions and disposed of their babies' in dumpsters. Simple infections left untreated, can sometimes cause infertility. Women need to feel as though there is help out there. With doctors like these around, women need to educate themselves as best as they can about their predicaments.
If enough awareness is raised, maybe we can hope for kinder, less preachy gynecologists in the near future. I sometimes feel frustrated, as I cannot raise this awareness alone. Something definitely needs to be done.
The amazing thing women will be able to do on the Maya website is send in their questions anonymously . Maya will forward these questions to medical professionals and get these women their answers. Every little bit helps, and this will definitely be a huge step in the right direction.
I am not advocating promiscuous pre-marital sex in any way. That is completely the individual's choice. All I hoped when writing this was that our doctors will someday be aware that women can have medical issues, be they married or not, and take a gentler approach to their patients. The fact that talking about sex is uncomfortable in our culture does not make the countless sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies disappear.