Consent in Pelvic Care

Consent in Pelvic Care
Stephanie Tillman
Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 1 December 2020
Consent is a clear dialogue between individuals to engage in a specific activity. Expectations for consent to intimate examinations in health care should be equal to, if not exceed, expectations for intimate interactions in society. In reality, current definitions of consent in health care vary. These blurry definitions lead to individualized interpretation, incomplete fulfillment, and opportunities for misunderstanding by both patient and health care provider. If a patient does not believe they have consented to an examination or procedure, they are likely to rightfully identify with one of consent’s antonyms, assault. Within the field of gynecology, a history of misogyny, racism, and classism illuminates abhorrent contexts of assault disguised as care. Similar practices persist in the modern application of pelvic care, ranging from overt sexual assault to coercion disguised as guidance. Health care providers and students who seek to improve consent practices can look to evidence‐based frameworks such as trauma‐informed care and shared decision making, both of which are embraced widely by professional organizations. These approaches often take precedence during the first pelvic examination; care for people who are lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, or nonbinary; and care for anyone with a known history of sexual assault; they can be easily extrapolated to all intimate examinations. Beyond obtaining consent for the examination itself, health care providers must also intentionally obtain consent to include students in care and openly discuss new universal recommendations for chaperone presence. Scripting for common procedures, such as bimanual examinations for pelvic care or cervical examinations in labor, allows health care providers to practice trauma‐informed language, include evidence‐based guidance, and avoid unintentional bias. Contemporary providers of intimate pelvic care must work to understand and strengthen the definition of consent and ensure its realization in practice.

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