After a while, the true-life horror stories women tell about their struggles to get reproductive health care start to bleed together. They almost always feature some variation on the same character: the doctor who waves a hand and says, “You’ll be fine,” or “That’s just in your head,” or “Take a Tylenol.” They follow an ominous three-act structure, in which a woman expresses concern about a sexual or reproductive issue to a doctor; the doctor demurs; later, after either an obstacle course of doctor visits or a nightmare scenario coming to life, a physician at last acknowledges her pain was real and present the whole time. Sometimes there’s a quietly gloomy boyfriend or husband in a secondary-character role, frustrated by the strain his partner’s health issue is putting on their intimacy.
That many women have stories of medical practitioners dismissing, misdiagnosing, or cluelessly shrugging at their pain is, unfortunately, nothing new. Research cited in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics in 2001, for example, indicated that women get prescribed less pain medication than men after identical procedures (controlling for body size), are less likely to be admitted to hospitals and receive stress tests when they complain of chest pain, and are significantly more likely than men to be “undertreated” for pain by doctors. And there’s a multi-million dollar industry of questionable alternative health remedies that was arguably built at least in part on a history of doctors being dismissive toward women’s bodily health.