Choosing a gyno: Do I want a man or woman?

Dear Alice,

I am young, and I'm switching gynecologists, but I am worried about having a male one. I had a female before and I wasn't as uncomfortable about going. Is there any reason I should be worried?

Dear Reader, 

Many people experience some level of unease when it comes to visiting a gynecologist. Regardless of the type of health care appointment, research demonstrates that patients are more satisfied and adhere to treatment plans better when they feel heard, respected, accepted, and treated as a partner during decision-making. Since these characteristics aren’t inherently tied to a particular gender and because there’s significant variation between individuals (regardless of gender identity), choosing a gynecologist ultimately comes down to personal preference. Fortunately, research supports that health care providers of all genders give the same quality of medical care. The gender of the provider makes no difference when it comes to discussions about diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, or general medical information. That being said, you always deserve to feel comfortable with your health care provider. Ultimately, only you can decide what would be best for you and this decision may change over time. Before digging in further, it’s key to note that the research referred to in this response defined gender as male and female. While this is inconsistent with how gender and sex assigned at birth are generally defined, for the purposes of representing the research as it was conducted, it will be discussed the same way here.  

Back to your question, though: you say you weren’t "as uncomfortable" about visiting a female gynecologist. Perhaps, regardless of the gender of your health care provider, you have some discomfort concerning your gynecological visits? Before you decide your gender preferences for a new gyno, you may want to think about what makes you uncomfortable about going to the gynecologist. Are you embarrassed? If so, what about? Are you nervous to speak openly about what might be worrying you? Perhaps you feel that your sexual and reproductive health behaviors are private. Maybe you're anxious about having a health care provider examine your breasts, vulva, and vagina? Are you concerned about any discomfort associated with the exam? Addressing concerns by letting your health care provider know that you’re feeling nervous can help them respond most effectively to your needs. Regular check-ups are a critical part of maintaining your sexual and reproductive health, and everyone involved benefits from open, honest dialogue. If they aren’t responsive to what you need, you always have the right to end the appointment and look for another provider.  

A person’s culture, history, or previous experiences may influence their comfort level for health care providers that are similar or different from them. As for the gender, some people may prefer a gynecologist who is a female because they expect that they will have a better understanding of what they're going through. Anecdotally, some patients report feeling more comfortable talking about sensitive topics, such as vaginal woes, with a health care provider of the same gender since they’re more likely to have experienced similarities and can relate. Researchers also noted that female gynecologists may be more supportive and refer more patients to specialists, while being less likely to prescribe pharmaceuticals compared to their male counterparts. In one study, more than half of gynecology patients at several practices in Connecticut reported that their physician’s gender didn’t influence their care quality and that gender was only one of several factors that they considered when choosing one. While this study had a small sample, it also points out that over time, the field has become dominated by women residents. 

On the other hand, some patients may prefer a male gynecologist, simply because they feel more comfortable with a man. Another study in California found that while gynecology patients reported a stronger preference for female obstetrician-gynecologists (OB/GYNs), female OB/GYNs were almost half as likely to receive high patient satisfaction rankings compared to males in the practice. In a review of several studies, researchers found that male OB/GYNs spent more time with female patients, fostered partnerships, and explained processes in detail to reduce sensitivity and increase comfort. Some suspect these behaviors are tied to a desire to connect with patients since they can’t directly empathize with the experience. The study also noted that that gynecologists of certain genders may be more common at different stages of care, which could influence satisfaction rates as well. 

While there might be some variation between individual studies, overall, there’s consensus that gynecologists of both genders deliver equal quality of care and that other physician qualities (such as patient engagement) are more likely to influence patient experiences. That being said, it’s not uncommon for people to find gynecological visits to be awkward or unpleasant, regardless of their physician’s gender. You might consider scheduling a consultation for your first visit, before you schedule an appointment for an actual exam. In doing so, you can request a female provider if they have one, and regardless, have an opportunity to meet and get to know the gynecologist to assess your comfort level before committing to doing an exam with them. You might also consider asking a friend or family member to accompany you to your visit. In the end, feeling comfortable and able to communicate well with a new gynecologist is paramount to influencing whether or not you're in good hands. 

Last updated Jun 11, 2021
Originally published Sep 10, 2004