Finalizing Research (Update 7)

This is my last update and will most likely be pretty similar to my final summary. I would like to take this opportunity to preliminarily discuss my findings. My final summary will likely include more specifics, as well as a brief discussion about steps for future research and my overall experience. Unable to produce a comprehensive typology due to the limited number of participants, this study does put forth a comprehensive analysis of three young women’s experiences with sex, sexuality, and sexual health. Despite this limitation, key themes easily arose from participant interviews: first OB/GYN experiences, medicalization, adherence to medical authority, sex education exposure, and financial barriers to access.

For the two participants who had seen an OB/GYN, the first experiences were traumatic and disempowering. This meant that subsequent appointments induced stress and a general sense of discomfort. Following repeated interactions with an OB/GYN, women are reduced to their bodies separate from any contextual factors. This process of essentialization is how women learn the safety in disembodiment and dissociation during appointments. The repeated assaults on women’s autonomy coupled with an essentialized treatment of women’s health teach female patients from a young age that their locus of power will be monitored, screened, tested, and observed under a patriarchal medical gaze.

All participants initially accepted medical authority. Only after continued exposure to the medical profession did participants begin to question medicine’s efficacy and their doctors’ judgments. This was primarily due to the increased likelihood of a negative experience, which could be a misdiagnosis, rude or indifferent behavior, or inability to cure or treat a given ailment. The implication, then, is that medical authority is learned. Sex education in schools and at home may contribute to the construction of medical authority. On top of this, open and honest conversations about sex, sexuality, and sexual health appear to greatly affect young women’s ability to navigate more complicated discourses about sex. Generally, participants more positively recollected sex education from family and friends than in-school programs.

Lastly, financial barriers to health care access are disturbingly common in the United States. As such, it is no surprise that two of the three participants indicated some sort of financial burden related to care. Overall, this research project sheds some light on largely uncharted territory. Going forward, social scientists must further investigate women’s health as a nexus of power relationships between individual women and patriarchy while privileging women’s lived experiences.