There! I’ve said it. So what, you may think, you’re a gynecologist, you must say it 100 times a day. Well, yes that’s true I am and I do say it a lot but I was told recently that I couldn’t say it, at least not on the radio or television. With the outstanding results we have had with some new procedures at Turner Medical Arts I wanted to spread the word and I chose a radio ad. That’s where I got into problems. They wouldn’t let me say “vagina” on the radio or “sexual intercourse”. So we had to change the script and talk in riddles. How incredibly sexist is this? Somehow it’s ok to talk in prime time TV of “ an erection that lasts longer than 4 hours” but not “vagina”. I mean it’s the correct word for an anatomic structure possessed by more than half the population, it’s not a swear word or a derogatory term and that’s not even the important point here. It is just another egregious example of women’s health not getting a fair shake. That’s what needs to change.
In 1988 my good friend Harry Reich a pioneering gynecological laparoscopic surgeon performed the first laparoscopic hysterectomy, I did my first here in Santa Barbara in 1991. Although we have shown that it is a safer, better and less painful procedure than the traditional operation, more than 20 years later less than half of those surgeries in this country are done the newer better way. Physicians have been unwilling to take the time to learn a new technique.
Contrary to this, the first laparoscopic prostatectomy (a comparable operation for men) was done in 2000 and by 2010, 90% or more were being done that way. Why did the urologists take the time to learn a new operation and the gynecologists didn’t? There are many reasons, ego, time, lack of confidence existed for both groups in learning something new but what was different was that the women often already had a trusted relationship with a gynecologist and took that advice without many questions and the men didn’t have that relationship with a urologist, questioned more and also more frequently got second opinions.
I don’t want to blame the women for trusting their gynecologist and not asking questions, I blame the gynecologists for not learning to do something for the benefit of their patients.
But you can fix this just like changing the attitudes of the radio and TV about what we can say. Raise your voices. Demand more. Please.