Bioethics Blogs

Family Doctors, STI Screening, and Shaming

Celeste Orr describes how women are treated differently than men during STI screening.


For various reasons, I haven’t had a consistent family doctor. So, when I seek a comprehensive STI screening, I’m usually (sceptically) facing (and fearing) a new family doctor. But, the impending procedures aren’t what prompt my anxiety; I dread being asked certain questions.

In my experience, usually male family doctors ask me at least one of the following when I am seeking a complete STI check: “How many men have you had sex with since your last STI screening or in the last x months?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Why are you here if you have a partner?” For a long time I just assumed everyone was asked (and made uncomfortable by) these questions. However, I recently started comparing my experience with those of others.

Numerous women I spoke with noted that male family doctors pose these queries more often than female family doctors. Some added that, when they provided a (true or false) number of folks they’ve had sex with the family doctor seemed dissatisfied with the answer. One friend told me that the number she provided prompted the family doctor to ask if she needed help dealing with her sex addiction. Many friends and colleagues noted that the doctor’s disposition made them feel uncomfortable for having multiple partners. One doctor asked another friend, who at the time was “only having sex with women,” if she still wanted the STI tests, insinuating that lesbian sex is not “real” sex or she isn’t in danger of contracting an STI.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.