Not just bodies: Strategies for desexualizing the physical examination of patients

Gender and Society 14 (3):457-482 (2000)
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Health care professionals use strategies during the physical examination to stay in control of their feelings, the behaviors of their patients, and to avoid allegations of sexual misconduct. To investigate how health care practitioners desexualize physical exams, the authors conducted 70 in-depth interviews with physicians and nurses. Three desexualizing strategies were general ones, used by both male and female health care providers, and were employed regardless of the characteristics of the patients: engaging in conversation and nonsexual joking, meeting the patient clothed before the exam, and using medical rather than colloquial terms. Six strategies were used only in specific contexts or were used primarily by men or women. These gendered strategies include using a chaperone, objectifying the patient, empathizing with the patient, joking about sex, threatening the patient, and looking professional. The authors conclude that desexualizing the exam is gendered and, in some contexts, sexualized. Using certain strategies bolsters stereotypes about gender and heterosexual relationships in the hospital.



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