Why Women Face Fear and Anxiety Around Their Gynecologist Visits

Does just the thought of your annual gynecological exam make you cringe? You're not alone. While many women have no qualms about visiting the gynecologist, other women often experience fear and anxiety just thinking about that annual visit.

Nurse explaining good news to female patient
Courtney Hale / Getty Images

According to Marifran Mattson, an associate communications professor at Purdue University who studies health communications, "Many women suffer tremendous anxiety about their annual gynecological exam. The anxiety is preventing women from receiving the best care possible, and many women who seek care regularly are not pleased with their visits."

Mattson suggests that patient education is key to alleviating this anxiety, as it will help women feel less vulnerable, and inspire them to be "more confident in demanding that their individuality be respected and their input be considered."

A survey, conducted in 2003 by Mattson and Maria Braun, an associate professor of communication studies at West Virginia University, showed that a high percentage of women between the ages of 18 and 71 have fears about the care they receive from their gynecologists. They also expressed displeasure over how their gynecologists reacted to their anxiety.

The Sources of Women's Fear

Nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed expressed some degree of anxiety about the gender of their gynecologist. Other reasons for fear given by the surveyed women include:

  • Feelings of discomfort
  • Embarrassment
  • Feelings of personal intrusion
  • Fear of finding a problem such as cancer

The women, for the most part, did not communicate their feelings to their gynecologist, in most cases because they felt that doctors were "uncaring and patronizing." Women who did share their feelings said their gynecologists often laughed or told them to relax. Women expressed that they want better communication with their doctors, but they often do not feel comfortable sharing their concerns.

"Physicians need to see women as people who experience real anxieties," says Braun, "not just illnesses. And patients need to start, or continue, being assertive when addressing such concerns with their gynecologists." She suggests they work on making eye contact and avoid being condescending. She also suggests patients demand more time with their doctor to share their concerns and ask the questions about their health that worry them.

Is It Time to Find a New Gynecologist?

What can you do if your gynecologist doesn’t share your concerns, or if you are unable to express your personal fears and anxieties with them? First, decide whether you would feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor. Then ask family and friends for recommendations. Personal referrals are often one of the best ways to find a doctor who is willing to have an open line of communication with you.

If finding a gynecologist through personal referral is not possible, call several gynecology offices in your area and talk with the staff. Ask if you can talk with the doctor's nurse about the doctor's communication style and patient philosophy.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not obligated to continue seeing a particular gynecologist if you are not comfortable. Don't be afraid to seek another doctor or to ask for second opinions when you are not comfortable with your gynecologist's evaluation of your health. Your comfort is something you cannot deny yourself!

1 Source
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  1. Yanikkerem E, Ozdemir M, Bingol H, Tatar A, Karadeniz G. Women's attitudes and expectations regarding gynaecological examination. Midwifery. 2009;25(5):500-8. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2007.08.006

Additional Reading
  • Buzzanell, Patrice M., Helen M. Sterk, and Lynn H. Turner. Gender in Applied Communication Contexts. "Reframing Communication During Gynecological Exams." Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2004.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.