Despite the fact that a doctor can alleviate pain and even save lives, the sad truth is that many people will do just about anything to avoid visiting their healthcare provider. And it goes beyond the needles and speculums—a lot of people simply don’t feel comfortable being open and honest with a stranger in a white lab coat.
This is especially true when it comes to the OB-GYN. Women of all genders have complicated feelings around going to the gynecologist: A 2003 study that surveyed women between the ages of 18-71 found that around two-thirds of women experience anxiety around visiting their OB-GYN. In some cases, this comes down to a straightforward issue, like shyness or the fear of receiving bad news. But it could also go deeper—think a previous sexual trauma or a not-so-great gynecologist who made them uncomfortable in the past. And a lot of patients just aren’t sure how a doctor will perceive them and their sexuality or gender.
“I only date women, and I’ve avoided the gynecologist for a lot of my life because it makes me uncomfortable. Plus, I don’t need a birth-control prescription so it’s always felt like pointless misery,” says Lisa, a 31-year-old living in San Francisco. “When I have gone, the experiences haven’t exactly been pleasant. I live in a really liberal city, and it still feels like OB-GYNs have no idea what to make of me.”
While the guidelines around how often we need to go the gynecologist have changed, those who’ve never had an abnormal pap smear or HPV test should still get one at least every five years. And if you’re experiencing any pain or atypical symptoms, you should consult your OB-GYN immediately. In other words, going to the gyno is mandatory. But how can we create a sex-positive environment that gets rid of the fear and discomfort around going to the doctor?
“I live in a really liberal city, and it still feels like OB-GYNs have no idea what to make of me.”—Lisa, 31
A new healthcare startup called Tia may be on the right track, joining Planned Parenthood and Canada’s Opt Clinics as an openly sex-positive provider. The service was originally an app where people could type their questions and get answers immediately. “It was an amazing and crazy thing—all these women felt like it was a private conversation and they were telling the bot things they never felt comfortable telling a gyno,” explains Tia co-founder Felicity Yost. “Patients don’t feel judged, and this type of communication helps them share things they wouldn’t normally feel comfortable opening up about. It also just showed the need for that relationship in healthcare.”
Realizing they could take this concept a step further, the founding members of Tia decided to bring their unique approach to healthcare into a physical setting: They’re opening the first-ever Tia Clinic in the Flatiron district of New York City this year. Tia takes insurance, and membership costs $15 a month—less than a spin class, as the website points out. From there, you can book same-day appointments and have 24/7 access to a gynecologist via the app.
One of Tia Clinic’s main goals is to train their OB-GYNS to be compassionate and helpful toward anyone with a uterus, no matter their sexuality or gender identification. “We’ve been working with an amazing consultant who can help shape how we communicate with every type of patient,” says Yost. “Definitely the LBTQ community, as well as women who don’t speak English. If they don’t have the same vocabulary, they have a hard time explaining what they’re going through. It takes a lot of training.”
One of Tia Clinic’s main goals is to train their OB-GYNS to be compassionate and helpful toward anyone with a uterus, no matter their sexuality or gender identification.
Another issue that can arise at the gynecologist is feeling like your doctor doesn’t hear you. That’s what Sarah, 29, went through for nearly five years. “It took forever for me to get a PCOS diagnosis, and I often felt like that was because so many of the OB-GYNs I talked to weren’t really listening to me or taking my other symptoms into account,” she says. This happens for a variety of reasons. For instance, many doctors’ schedules are so packed that they don’t have time to spend more than a few minutes with each patient. And others may have been trained to believe certain symptoms are a normal part of womanhood, like the period pain that comes with endometriosis.
That’s another thing Tia is on a mission to do: Take a holistic approach to diagnosis and care, like pricier functional medicine clinics such as Parsley Health and One Medical. In other words, if you’re dealing with strep throat you can still visit them, and they can prescribe you both antibiotics and acupuncture. “Women’s health is not transactional,” says Yost. “We want to know what’s going on in your life. If you have a rash, we’ll ask you what you’ve been through this year—maybe it was a breakup or another big life transition.”
While Tia is a great start, we still have a lot of important tweaks to make in the healthcare space before people stop dreading the doctor and start paying more frequent visits. Unfortunately, skimping on your OB-GYN visits can lead to a slew of health problems down the road. So if you don’t feel comfortable with your current gyno, consider doing your research to find a new doctor you trust.
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