Almost half of all research on gynecology focuses on reproduction and childbirth – and largely overlooks female sexual pleasure, autonomy in childbirth, menopause and many other important issues.
Men have dominated the field for the last 800 years, says Dr. Netta Avnoon, who mapped the subjects covered by researchers in a study for Tel Aviv University.
She says that even if they have the best intentions, they regard the female as little more than an object for producing babies.
As a result, topics that are much more critical to women’s quality of life receive little attention, both in scientific research and in the clinic.
The researchers analyzed the list of scientific journals in the gynecology and obstetrics category, and in the 83 journals that appeared in the worldwide database, they found that only 12 per cent deal with health issues in the female sexual organs that are unrelated to reproductive functions.
Six per cent deal with breasts; five per cent deal with gynecological cancers; and a mere per cent (three journals) address the health of women before and after childbearing age, including menopause.
Women’s health issues that are neglected include diseases and damage to the muscles and nerves of the female pelvis and sexual organs, female sexual pleasure, rights and autonomy in childbirth, the connection between the menstrual cycle and the immune system, menopause and the later years of life, and more.
“The time has come for women-centered gynecology,” said Dr. Netta Avnoon, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University, and the researcher who conducted the study.
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“Women’s voices must be heard. To date, medical schools offer their students very scant and unsatisfactory knowledge about female anatomy and physiology, specifically in terms of women’s sexuality.
“Even though the overall numbers of female gynecologists are on the rise (in the US there are by now more women than men in this profession), their education is still based on age-old masculine and chauvinistic traditions. To generate real change doctors must be trained to regard women’s rights, health, and sexuality as the main focus of women’s medicine, and to treat their patients with respect.
“Greater emphasis should be given to patient experience and autonomy in medical settings, and to much-needed innovation in research, instruments, technologies, protocols, surgical procedures, and medications.”
No social activity is neutral or objective, and science and medicine are no exception. In ancient times, women were treated by women experts, but since the 16th century, the specialty has been dominated by men, who determine which topics are worth studying.
Consequently, they were the ones who set practices and protocols and introduced treatments, technologies, and techniques, all too often subjecting patients to medical practices that did not necessarily benefit them.
The article was published in the academic journal Nature.