I was molested by my pediatrician when I was 7 years old. It was difficult to convince my mom of it because I didn’t have all the legal terms at my disposal, so all I kept saying was that I don’t think my doctor should have touched me there if I had only been taken in for a cold.
The touching always lasted longer than it should have which was my first sign that it was not appropriate. When it kept happening, I began to dread each time my mom had to pull me from school to take me to an exam, because I knew she didn’t care that I was uncomfortable. And that was the ironic part. My mom was the one who waited 6 months after my birth before allowing my own father to change my diaper and refused to let us attend sleepovers because she said she couldn’t trust my friends’ fathers. Yet, the first time I was fondled inappropriately, she was right in the room watching and didn’t even realize it was happening.
My mom did an excellent job raising my siblings and me on her own after my parents split up, but why did something this intense (which I still vividly remember) happen to me on her watch? The answer is simple.
She trusted a doctor more than she trusted her own daughter.
Eventually, my mom listened to me and switched pediatricians. I never had those bad experiences with the new doctor, and I was happy to later be at an age where I could decide for myself what could be done to my body and what could not. However, now that this scandal with the Olympic doctor has taken over the news, it seems my situation probably happens a lot more than I thought. And it is only now that people are willing to entertain the idea that doctors are not God, and that children have a voice.
I don’t have a daughter, but I do have a son, and I believe his body parts should be protected just as carefully as anyone else’s to ensure that he grows up knowing he has a right to decide what happens to his body. Therefore, I will not consent to him getting naked physicals before he is of age to express to me if he’s okay with it or not.
Some parents might argue that this is extreme, because he doesn’t have the right to do what he wants with his body if he is only 3 years old, and my reply is, “Why not?”
I pay close attention to the ways I interact with my son so he learns that I respect his body and that others should too. I do not forcefully take off my son’s clothes if he’s refusing a bath. I wait until a few minutes later when he’s done playing or in a better mood, because at that point he is usually more willing and we don’t have to struggle to take off his clothes against his will (an unhealthy way to make him think he should let adults do whatever they want to him).
When it comes to potty training, we do not rip off his underwear or diaper and make him sit on a toilet until he’s ready. If he wants to keep his underwear on, we allow him to do so. At doctor’s appointments, we also state that we do not want his privates to be touched and our pediatrician doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.
Meanwhile, others out there might say, “You are harming your child by not allowing the doctors to do their job,” to which I laugh because if you don’t believe that part of a doctor’s job is simply to follow the guidelines (check things on a list for what defines a physical) so he can properly bill your insurance for a physical, you probably are not aware of lots of other things — like the fact that you can research the purpose of a physical online, and that you can learn for yourself which portions of a physical are crucial and at what age and why.
There are also many compelling views presented on how doctors try (or don’t try) to deal with patient modesty in general since there’s the expectation that everyone be fine with disrobing when it’s not always required and some patients refuse. You can also see that Europeans rarely give children physicals where they have to completely undress. So why does America? I don’t know.
All I know is that my son doesn’t need regular examination of his testicles as long as he wasn’t born with anything specifically wrong and there no red flags.
And more importantly, I am the only voice between my son and his doctor, and if I can’t be sure that he’s okay with a stranger touching his private parts, I won’t allow it. If I force him to be subjected to things he’s not comfortable with, he will start to wonder why there are exceptions to mommy’s rule that no one can touch his private areas, and worse, if these exceptions should always be made with certain individuals (i.e. doctors, family members, babysitters?). It’s a confusing thing that can lead down a bad road and that’s what I’m trying to prevent.
Call me irrational, but I sleep better at night knowing my son is learning that each individual has control over his or her own body. One day he will see that this means girls get to decide what happens to their bodies too — something some pregnant women are still having to battle in court or scream as they’re tied down to tables for C-sections or catheters they never consented to.
It’s never too early to instill these types of values into boys, and it’s always the right time to remember that a child is a person with thoughts and feelings, too, regardless of how small they are.