You decide how and when your body is touched, not your doctor

As patients, we entrust our healthcare providers with our bodies, our health, and our well-being. But too often, we are let down by the very people we turn to for help. This is absolutely appalling and unacceptable.

Every one has the right to consent to and be treated with dignity and respect – without pain – during medical procedures. These rights are fundamental, and healthcare providers have a duty to respect them. We must hold our healthcare providers accountable for their actions and demand that they listen when we tell them to stop or if something hurts. Pain should never be a part of any physical exam, and it’s unacceptable when it is.

Unfortunately, patients are sometimes subjected to medical procedures and tests without proper consent. I’m not talking about complex procedures, I’m talking about the simple ones- needle sticks, blood pressure assessments, and especially gynecological exams. Our healthcare providers need to understand, and respect, that our bodies are not only consentable with major procedures, but our personal space & consent matters with the “trivial” ones as well. In a society where many people have a history of body shaming, abuse, or fear, any person entering into another person’s body space needs to be met with permission and understanding. Being a healthcare worker does not negate this basic right.

In many cases, healthcare providers may fail to provide enough information to patients, leaving them feeling confused and uncertain. As a healthcare worker myself, I understand that we often neglect to think about a situation from the patient’s perspective. We get into a routine and grab arms, poke needles, or touch where we need without it ever crossing our mind that we’re entering another person’s space. We see people as patients, and often forget our patients are people- people with stories, fears, and rights.

Patients have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. This means being listened to and taken seriously, regardless of diagnosis, perception, or knowledge of their condition. This also means being treated without pain, whether during an examination (hello pelvic exam), a test, or a procedure. Painful medical experiences can be traumatic and lead to long-term negative effects on our mental health. Patients should not be expected to endure pain or discomfort during medical procedures, and healthcare providers must take steps to ensure that this does not happen.

Unfortunately, there are still cases where healthcare providers ignore our pain or dismiss it as unimportant. They proceed with exams or procedures with little regard to the patient’s actual experience. I’ve personally be told on several occasions to “suck it up” or “stop tensing up” during gynecological pelvic exams, despite me communicating my history of vaginismus. I’ve heard far too many other stories similar to mine. We need to hold healthcare workers accountable for their actions and demand that they listen to us when we tell them to stop or when something hurts. We should not be afraid to speak up and advocate for ourselves, even if it feels uncomfortable. It’s important to remember that we have the right to make decisions about our own bodies and health, and our healthcare providers should respect those decisions.

We also need to demand more from our healthcare providers. This means asking questions, seeking second opinions, and researching our medical care. When we mention things like sexual pain, we need to insist on answers and not permit a healthcare provider to shrug this off, gaslight our experiences, or ignore our complaints all together. If you find your provider isn’t entertaining your symptoms or complaints, despite your efforts to get them to care, it’s time to call them out and find a provider who will care. You deserve quality healthcare. You deserve answers.

Even though it may seem like doctors and medical providers are the primary agents of your medical care, the reality is no one can advocate for or care about your body as much as you do. Be the primary agent, the pilot, and the director of your healthcare. And don’t be afraid to call out those who don’t offer you the care and attention you deserve (and are paying for!).

Together, we can create a safer and more just healthcare system for everyone. We need to demand better from our healthcare providers and hold them accountable for their actions. We need to insist on consent, dignity, and respect. We can start by speaking up and advocating for ourselves and others. We must never forget that as patients, we are the ones in control of our own bodies and health. Let’s use our voices to demand the care we deserve.

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