July 17, 2023

How to Find a Trauma-Informed Gynecologist

For women who are survivors of sexual assault, routine doctor's visits can be uncomfortable and triggering. Especially because the exams often involve physicians examining sites where assault has occurred. Pelvic exams and pap smears are common gynecological screening procedures that can be particularly difficult for trauma survivors to endure.

For these reasons, it's important that all obstetrician-gynecologists and office staff acknowledge the prevalence of sexual trauma in their patients' lives and implement strategies to prevent re-traumatization and optimize care in a way that affords survivors a sense of safety and control. The first step in this effort is finding a gynecologist who can provide care that's trauma-informed.

This might mean that your physician is familiar with the effects of sexual trauma on patients, including anxiety and PTSD; has taken courses on how to support trauma survivors; or can refer you to body work practitioners who are trained in working with individuals who have experienced sexual violence. It might also mean that your gynecologist is a woman—because many studies show that female doctors are more comfortable with women who have had sexual assault experiences.

It's also helpful for gynecologists to give their patients clear explanations of why each exam is necessary and what they will be doing during that time. Lastly, they can offer women more control over their appointments by allowing them to ask for less-invasive options during each procedure. For example, if a pelvic exam is too uncomfortable for the patient to bear, the provider should offer to use a smaller speculum or even just the finger tip.

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