Feminism | Posted by Erica L on 05/31/2013

“Are You Sexually Active?” A Gay Girl Dealing With Heteronormative Doctors

Even in this day and age, my sex life stumps my doctor

Over the past few weeks, my schedule has been jammed with a clusterfuck of doctor’s appointments in an attempt to solve a stomach issue I’ve been dealing with for more than three years. I don’t typically shy away from doctors – I’m not the type to fear any unexpected diseases or cry over needles – but after a few appointments, I quickly grew tired of the answering the same question: “Are you sexually active?”

The answer is always, “Yes, with women only.” The response is always a blush, a stutter. Doctors’ hands always get clumsy; they are always unable to function in a coherent manner. Their notes always turn into scribbled gibberish.

I’ve always felt more painfully awkward than I should.

I’ve only just begun to disclose whom I am sleeping with to the docs. While coming out to complete strangers can often be embarrassing – especially when this disclosure causes some, like my gastroenterologist, to fumble and drop all of their paperwork – it’s a necessary task.

Because medically, I’m still a “virgin.”

While what constitutes as sex varies for everyone, most medics in Canada (and surely in other countries) define “sexual activity” as traditional, heterosexual penis-in-vagina sex, in which the risk for pregnancy and STIs are much higher.

For this reason, I learned, fingers (and other makeshift dildos) don’t count as penetrative sex to most doctors.

It was something I wish I had learned earlier.

Just a month ago, I was scheduled for a transvaginal ultrasound, a procedure that would rule out ovarian cysts as a cause for my stomach troubles. When I arrived, I was given a piece of tissue paper – what the nurses called a “gown” – and was directed into a room where a technician helped prop my butt and legs up for the procedure.

Admittedly, I was nervous, mostly because I didn’t know what was considered “routine.”

My angry-looking ultrasound technician introduced herself and began unrolling a condom on what looked like a prop from a Star Wars film – a long rod with a bulb on its top. She finally turned to me and asked (sounding just as angry as she looked): “Are you sexually active?”

“Yes.” I thought to myself, “That’s a no-brainer.”

Without hesitation, she began her attempt at ramming the rod inside of me. After a few tries, the angry technician deduced that it just wouldn’t fit.

“Do you want to try?”

I declined. My hands were shaky and clammy, and I was far too nervous to try to insert something that large inside of me beside an angry stranger.

She tried again.

Still, nothing.

“Are you sure you’re sexually active? Penis-in-vagina?”

I quickly learned I wasn’t as sexually active as I once thought, from a medical perspective.

And while I was clearly the more embarrassed party, it begs the question: Why?

Why aren’t doctors considering the fluidity of sexuality when asking about sexual activity? And when I, a patient, bring it up, why is it so embarrassing, out of the blue? In a progressive country like Canada, the idea that I could be a lesbian is still a surprising notion to strangers.

These experiences, in turn, have changed the way in which I disclose my sexual activity. It is the only way, I have learned, to get the best medical treatment available to me. Engaging in lesbian sex changes the way in which my doc views my risk for STIs, pregnancy (duh!) and my overall health. And while I shouldn’t have to explain myself, it also saves me some embarrassment when it is too painful to fit a giant rod inside of me.

It’s important to note that this could happen to any girl – not just gay girls, and perhaps even those who are, by the medical definition, “sexually active.” Still, I await the day when a doctor ignores heteronormative protocol and asks me to clarify my sexual activity. For now, my own disclosure – awkward stuttering and all – will have to do.

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  • Katherine P @ at 11:03 pm, June 1st, 2013

    That happens at my cardiologist. I’m heterosexual but my cardiologist says things that as an LBGTIQ ally I point out as heteronormative. Because I have a congenital heart condition he always brings up having children (of which I have no interest in) but he prefaces his sentences with “When you meet Mr Right…” if he says that to all his female patients I find this problematic because it assumes heterosexuality. Thank you for pointing out this, because I don’t think a lot of medical professionals realise they need rethink what they say, or realise it may not always mean what they intend.

  • Katie @ at 12:48 am, October 1st, 2013

    Never thought of this before…thanks for posting, really enlightening!

  • Rory @ at 4:38 pm, May 31st, 2015

    Thank you for this! Before having any lesbian sex, answering that question was easy “Nope” but now that I have had it I felt awkward. Was I supposed to say yes? I mean that depends on why they are asking. Not to mention what about hetero’s who engage in oral sex, are they sexually active? It is such an annoying question, they don’t define what sexually active means, so how are we supposed to answer. Now I have an answer I can actually use, so thank you for writing this!!!!

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