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Giuffre and Williams 2000

Giuffre and Williams 2000 - NOT JUST BODIES Strategiesfor...

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NOT JUST BODIES Strategies for Desexualizing the Physical Examination of Patients PATTI A. GIUFFRE Southwest Texas State University CHRISTINE L. WILLIAMS University of Texas at Austin Health care professionals use strategies during the physical examination to stay in control of theirfeel- ings, the behaviors of their patients, and to avoid allegations of sexual misconduct. To investigate how health care practitioners desexualize physical exams, the authors conducted 70 in-depth interviews with physicians and nurses. Three desexualizing strategies were general ones, used by both male andfemale health care providers, and were employed regardless of the characteristics of the patients: engaging in conversation and nonsexual joking, meeting the patient clothed before the exam, and using medical rather than colloquial terms. Six strategies were used only in specific contexts or were used primarily by men or women. These gendered strategies include using a chaperone, objectifying the patient, empathiz- ing with the patient, joking about sex, threatening the patient, and looking professional. The authors conclude that desexualizing the exam is gendered and, in some contexts, (hetero)sexualized. Using cer- tain strategies bolsters stereotypes about gender and heterosexual relationships in the hospital. Physicians and nurses routinely examine naked bodies and discuss intimate, sex- ual issues with their patients (Friedman and Boumil 1995; Komaromy et al. 1993). Yet, these health care professionals are expected to avoid or deny personal sexual feelings and ignore the expression of any sexual desire from their patients (Hearn and Parkin 1987; Henslin and Biggs 1998; Parkin 1989; Pringle 1998). How do they do it? That is, how do they desexualize the physical exam? Health care professionals are guided in this task in several ways. First, formal organizational policies and professional ethics govern doctors' and nurses' interac- tions with patients. Health care providers are usually prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients, particularly when patients are under their direct AUTHORS' NOTE: We would like to thank Kirsten Dellinger, Dana Britton, Martin Button, Ellen Slaten, Edith Elwood, Beth Schneider, and the reviewersfor comments on this article. We would also like to thank Teresa Sullivan, RonaldAngel, Charles Bonjean, Sue Hoppe, and Janice Beyer, who supervised the original research. REPRINT REQUESTS: Patti A. Giuffre, Department of Sociology, Southwest Texas State University, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666; e-mail: [email protected] GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 14 No. 3, June 2000 457-482 ? 2000 Sociologists for Women in Society 457
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458 GENDER & SOCIETY / June 2000 care (Friedman and Boumil 1995). Second, the medical school curriculum social- izes students to desexualize the human body. Medical students are trained
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