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Editor’s Note: This piece has been published as a part of the Health Over Stigma campaign, which is aimed at dismantling the stigma surrounding sexual health of unmarried women, and demanding accountability from medical service providers for stigma-free, non-judgemental sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Join the #MyGynaecStory wave by sharing your own story as an unmarried woman accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare by posting it on your social media or emailing us.


Posted by Stuti Johri

Let me start by acknowledging how incredibly privileged I am. I was born in the most modern, cosmopolitan city in India, to parents who have always strongly championed women’s rights and prioritised giving my sister and me the best education possible. I am cisgender, heterosexual and have never experienced any discrimination on the grounds of caste. Today, I continue to live in the modern, cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, and work at a progressive, feminist law firm with a stellar reputation for professionalism. I am well aware that I live in a bubble.

But ever so often, I am reminded that being a woman is a social disadvantage. Most times, this is in the context of safety—I am always conscious of what I’m wearing and who I’m with, and what time it is, and which part of the city I’m in. The other frequent reminder comes from some doctors and other medical service providers, whose gender bias and misplaced moral high ground is apparent in their treatment.

But, as I grew older and my health problems became more gendered—menstruation or puberty related—I began to notice how differently they were treated.

As a toddler, there was no difference in my treatment by doctors when compared to the next person. But as I grew older and my health problems became more gendered—menstruation or puberty related—I began to notice how differently they were treated. Period pain, to the point that I was unable to function, was considered normal, or just a lack of physical strength.

A gynaecologist who took my pain seriously said that birth control pills would help me, but refused to prescribe them until I was married. Not older – married. She also discussed this exclusively with my mother, not even bothering to explain her diagnosis or treatment plan to me. Apparently, I was old enough to have my period, and old enough to experience excruciating pain every few weeks, but not old enough to be spoken to directly, and definitely not old enough to be involved in discussions about my own health. 

Image source: iStock

Another gynaecologist refused to prescribe medication for certain Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) related issues because it would become difficult for me to conceive later on. I was not asked whether this was likely to be a concern for me—it might have been, but I would have liked to be included in the decision making process either way. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford to visit multiple gynaecologists until I found someone who provided me with non-judgmental medical care. But not everyone is as privileged.

A while ago, I went for some tests including blood sampling and scans. The lab technician, while filling out a form for me, took the liberty of making several assumptions, one of which was “no” in response to “Is the patient sexually active?”. I asked him why he didn’t check with me before answering that question, to which he said, “You’re not married na”. Had I not read through the form before signing it, I would not have realised this at all. Maybe the answer to this question was irrelevant for the tests I had gone for, but what if it wasn’t? 

Refusing to recognise and treat women’s health issues, or to prescribe medication based on certain preconceived notions, or making potentially dangerous assumptions about someone based on antiquated ideas about sex and marriage allows for a meaningless stigma to take precedence over women’s health. 

Image source: Youth Ki Awaaz

Having studied in the UK, I am even more alarmed at the effect of stigma on healthcare in India. In college, we were given leaflets containing information on the different types of contraception available to us. We had a college nurse, who provided contraceptive advice and free contraception, including emergency contraception (the ‘morning after pill’) to anyone who needed it, and no questions were asked.

Also read: How My Gynaecologists Dismissed My Pain | #MyGynaecStory

In fact, to deal with the limited amount of stigma there may have been, a system was devised for students to request for free, confidential and discreet access to products such as a variety of condoms, lubrication, and pregnancy tests. Our college even emphasised the importance of regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases by providing free testing and advice. All these services were widely and regularly advertised, and students, especially women, were actively encouraged to use them. 

Refusing to recognise and treat women’s health issues, or to prescribe medication based on certain preconceived notions, or making potentially dangerous assumptions about someone based on antiquated ideas about sex and marriage allows for a meaningless stigma to take precedence over women’s health. 

In my experience in the UK, marriage or the lack thereof was never deemed relevant to the conversation around sexual health. But as an unmarried woman living in India, I would definitely hesitate to visit a gynaecologist in the context of sexual health unless something was terribly wrong. I would probably try to Google my way out of a sexual health issue, and this is after all the exposure I have been fortunate enough to have had. 

Image source: University of Houston

Also read: At The Gynaecologist: What Makes My Body Mine? | #MyGynaecStory

There are two types of unmarried women in India—those who have been shamed or denied adequate health care by a gynaecologist at some point in their lives, and those who have never been to one, for fear of joining the first group. Anyone who claims to belong to neither one of these categories is a bald faced liar.


Stuti studied law at the University of Oxford, and is an advocate registered with the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa. She is a chronic oversharer, meme enthusiast and pop culture aficionado.

Featured Image Source: My Life Living Abroad

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