July 1, 2013 at 8:07 AM ET
When Duchess Kate delivers the royal baby, one of the obstetrician/gynecologists assisting her will be Dr. Alan Farthing, who is also the Queen’s current surgeon— and just happens to be a pretty dashing fellow.
But having a good looking OB/GYN can cut both ways. Some women may not even notice or care, while others might feel a lot of pressure to conform to stereotypical notions of femininity. As one expectant mother put it, a cute OB would make her feel like she had to get a bikini wax and pedicure before every appointment. Worse, a patient might withhold health information that they fear makes them appear less attractive to their physician.
Over the years, Anna Fishbeyn, a New York playwright and producer of the play "Sex in Mommyville" has had her fair share of awkward interactions with young male OB/GYN’s, which have convinced her that when it comes to pap smears and breast exams, she’s much more at ease with the same sex.
“On one occasion,” she says, “a very handsome male OB/GYN said to me directly ‘you have a really good body’ while I was totally naked, save for the meager coverings of a blue gown.” Fishbeyn politely thanked him for the “compliment,” but was “totally unnerved” for the rest of the appointment.
In college, Fishbeyn also recalls how a male resident through her school’s health services asked her out on a date— during a vaginal exam. “He said, ‘Would you like to go out to dinner sometime?’” she recalls. “As if it was the most natural spot in the world. After that, I only saw female OB/GYNs and haven’t looked back since.”
So is it sexist to want only female doctors or to think a male doctor is too good looking to be in the delivery room when you’re having a baby?
When choosing the right doctor to deliver your child, appearance, of course, is certainly not the most important issue, and by all accounts, Duchess Kate is in good hands with the highly trained and experienced Dr. Farthing.
But doctors agree that patient comfort level is a crucial factor in picking the right physician, especially when it comes to women’s health. The consensus being: if a woman feels self-conscious or inhibited in any way around her OB/GYN— even if it’s because he resembles a British George Clooney— it’s better to find somebody else.
Dr. Samuel A. Pauli, who specializes in reproductive endocrinology at the Reproductive Science Center of New England in Lexington, Mass., says that occasionally patients won’t realize that they’ve scheduled an appointment with a male doctor until he’s walked into the exam room, at which point they realize they would rather see a woman instead. He says he always offers to reschedule the appointment with a female physician, rather than try to convince them he’s the right doctor for them.
“My main concern is that the patient has a good experience and is comfortable with their doctor,” explains Pauli. “If they prefer a female doctor, I want them to have that experience as it is something I cannot offer them.”
And experts say that choosing a female health care provider— or even a less attractive or older male physician— because she makes you more relaxed isn’t a sexist decision. The patient-doctor relationship is all about trust and disclosure, and an OB/GYNs sex is as valid a part of the equation as their bedside manner.
“Sexism is more than showing a preference for individual characteristics,” explains Jennifer Reich, a professor of sociology at the University of Denver. “It’s the belief that those of one sex or gender are superior to those of the other, which is used to justify unequal treatment.”
However, people can indeed be sexist consumers of healthcare in other contexts. According to Reich, some sociological research suggests that a small number of patients may believe that men are better doctors and some evidence shows that male physicians are addressed with more respect than their female counterparts— both of which constitute unequal treatment based on the belief that one sex is inherently more competent or more deserving.
But when it comes to choosing an OB/GYB, what matters most, Reich says, is that women seek high quality care for their reproductive and sexual health, and that they can confide in their provider without ever feeling embarrassed or stigmatized.