A first visit to the gynecologist, though fraught with dread and embarrassment, is one of the pivotal milestones in womanhood. It symbolizes one step away from youth, taking our sexual health into our own hands and accepting the fact that a stranger must examine our lady parts quite intimately to ensure they are duly functioning. It also means being comfortable exposing our bodies. Of course, this goes against everything we are conditioned to believe is appropriate.
As children in America, we quickly learn that innocuously lifting up our tops in front of our playmates or prancing around in our underwear for fun (surely we’ve all done this) is wrong; nudity outside the realm of bathing and sex is naughty. I vividly remember the times when I was shunned from the living room while my parents were watching an R-rated movie that involved violence, kissing or worse, full-frontal nudity. I would quietly sneak back into the room, hide behind the couch, and peak through my hands. The slightest gasp revealed my disobedience, sending my father into a frustrated fit admonishing that those kinds of movies were not for kids. They were only meant to be watched in secrecy by adults.
In locker rooms we do our best to conceal our bodies, showing the least amount of skin while changing our clothes and at doctor’s offices we expect a certain level of privacy as we prepare with only a paltry paper gown separating our goose-bumped skin from a cold examining table. Leaving our socks on makes us feel less revealed, less vulnerable. Many people associate nudity with shame, a learned behavior which governs much of our social conduct. While it may allow us to set boundaries it also indicates discomfort with our own anatomy. Our modesty manifests itself as prudishness which becomes very dangerous territory to negotiate when visiting the gynecologist in France.
In many cases, American gynecologists exercise within a large practice; a medicinal facility with a packed waiting room, sheaves of mommy magazines, and individual examining rooms full of all sorts of daunting, pointy instruments. If the gynecologist is male, a nurse remains present in the room during the consultation (so not only are we prudes, we’re also sue-happy). We rarely, if ever, see the inside of our doctor’s private office and the doctor-patient relationship is kept strictly professional at all times.
The French gynecological experience is much different. The examining room is also the doctor’s private office, there is little to no privacy when whittling out of your skivvies, and that measly paper gown? Nowhere to be found. All hangs out at the French gyno and the questions can be just as invasive. After lying exposed and uncomfortable on the table, fielding questions about my mental health and trying to remind myself that I’m not completely naked because my socks are still on, I begin to wonder if French women also feel uncomfortable during these visits. The simple answer is, not likely.
Note: this article originally appeared on BitchBuzz.com however I would like to add an amendment. There was a detail I unintentionally left out of the article, though I imagine it was because I have tried so hard to block the memory from my mind. Another difference when visiting the gynecologist is when a sample is taken (Pap smear, sorry boys), the doctor places the specimen in a plastic tube, seals the lid, puts it in an envelope and hands you instructions to send it to the lab to be analyzed. That's right, you get to walk around with a cervix sample in your handbag and are in charge of mailing it off yourself. Why? I'm still trying to figure that out.