When you first meet someone and she tells you what she does for a living, it’s not uncommon to think about what that means for you.
For example, when I met a man online who was in construction, I thought of all my badly needed home repairs.
When I met someone who was a financial planner, I pondered my retirement planning.
So, when I tell a romantic prospect that I’m an obstetrician and gynecologist, I know exactly what they are thinking about.
Possibly even my vagina.
I accept this as human nature (everyone, including non-dates, probably thinks of vaginas when they meet an ob-gyn) and part of the gig. Then when I tell a prospect that I recently published a book called “The Vagina Bible,” I get one of two responses.
There are the men who respond with a respectful “oh” or “that’s interesting,” and then we move on to another subject.
Then there are the amateur gynecologists who inevitably want to discuss two things: female ejaculation and G spots.
So I explain the facts — that the best evidence tells us that so-called female ejaculation is urine (and who cares if you’re having fun, sex is messy) and that there is no specific G spot, but many women have clitoral tissue close to the urethra that can be very sensitive when stimulated correctly.
These amateur gynecologists gyno-splain to me that I am mistaken. That their personal mastery informs them that I must be wrong.
My response is to tell them that statistically — especially with that attitude — they have likely induced more fake orgasms than real ones, so I am uninterested in their opinions.
It’s as effective as blocking someone on Twitter.
After ending a seven-year relationship last year, I began dating again. And as someone who spends a lot of time communicating online and thinking about sex, both personally and professionally, it’s fascinating — and often disheartening — to observe the role technology plays in our modern mating rituals.
There is, of course, sexting. Take this real-life exchange between me and a would-be suitor, whose name I have changed:
Hey Jen, this is Chad from [insert random dating site].
Hey Chad, this is Jen. Thanks for reaching out!
I can recommend a good espresso machine.
Oh that’s great. My coffee making skills, as you noticed in my profile, suck.
I like anal.
Oooh, Chad. I like to know someone’s last name, if they’re as divorced as they claim and where screen shots of this interaction might end up before we slide from lattes to my anus. I commend you on your bold move, as only about 13 percent of women reported anal sex as a part of their recent sexual repertoire. Being this forward must be a time saver. Best of luck in your search. 😉
Then there is the unsolicited penis photo.
This is something 41 percent of women ages 18 to 36 have received. A recent study tells us this photographic exhibitionism from heterosexual men is often an overture for a naked picture in reply — a pictogram for, “Take off your clothes and send me a photo.” It is also associated with narcissism and arousal at eliciting disgust and shock.
I don’t think I receive more sexts or unsolicited photos than the general population, though I may experience a more rapid escalation there once prospects learn I write about sex.
So, how is dating as an ob-gyn different? A few ways.
First and foremost: Sexually transmitted infections are front of mind for me and anyone else in my profession. We spend a lot of time thinking about S.T.I.s, and this causes some apprehension on my part about the false intimacy of sexting.
Why? There is data that suggests that sexting someone you are not in a romantic relationship with, a.k.a. a relative stranger, may be associated with riskier sexual behaviors like unprotected sex.
We ob-gyns see infertility from chlamydia that lurked silently in the fallopian tubes. Syphilis acquired from a supposedly monogamous partner. H.I.V. in a teenager. All things that are preventable with condoms, dental damns, testing, medications and communication.
How, then, does a dating ob-gyn approach the S.T.I. Talk? First I ask my partner about his sexual history, and we discuss S.T.I. testing and whether it’s time for one or both of us to get tested.
Knowing what I know, I recently received the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. I’m out of the recommended age range (9 to 45 years old), but there is no medical risk to getting the vaccine at my age, 53, just the chance that it may not be covered by my insurance.
While statistically I have likely been exposed to at least one or two types of HPV over my lifetime, the Gardasil 9 vaccine covers nine types of HPV. (Though it’s unlikely I have contracted all nine, it’s nice to have all bases covered!)
I’m dating men close to my age — overtures from 28-year-olds, while flattering, are just not for me — and while overall rates of HPV positivity drop with age, I’m a realist: When people are dating, they are more likely to have recent sexual activity, which is a risk factor for being HPV positive.
I also won’t date someone who doesn’t support reproductive rights. (This of course is not an ob-gyn-specific dating preference.) Because this is a deal breaker for me, I believe in getting that information out front and center. I’ll ask potential dates specifically about that and other issues that are important to me before we migrate from the dating platform to text.
Finally, there is one thing about the way that I date that is likely unique, even among ob-gyns. If all the predate hurdles have been cleared, I give my full name, knowing a Google search will ensue. I know an article I wrote for The New York Times will come up: “My Vagina Is Terrific. Your Opinion About It Is Not.”
If the men inquire about this piece, I explain that my vagina is terrific. And any man should count himself lucky to get anywhere near it.
That conviction took almost a lifetime to acquire. If I could give a gift to every woman, it would be the knowledge that her body is glorious, along with the confidence to tell anyone who says otherwise — whether on a date or not — that he is not worthy.
Online dating can make it easy to change behavior, and even lower the standards that matter to us. For example, I wouldn’t approach five or six men in rapid succession at a party and ask if they were interested in getting to know me romantically, but online dating — whether it’s the algorithm or the anonymity — encourages that behavior.
In some ways it’s like shopping online and ending up with a shirt you really didn’t need or even want.
I think what’s missing in all this for me is a lack of courtship: the process of getting to know someone without every communication being translated into computer code.
I’ve met enough people after extended digital communications to know that while superficially many are who they said they were (politics, favorite food, coffee habits, etc.), emails, texts and a review of their social media use provided only the illusion of knowledge. It misses the essence of that person, which was almost always very different. The longer I communicated exclusively online before meeting, the more disappointing the first date.
So more and more I find myself pulling back and asking, “What would I do in real life?”
I’m not sure I have the answer, but I think I’m going to have to go old school and pick up the telephone more often and try to remember how this used to work before online dating sites gave us the illusion of connection.
Dr. Jen Gunter is an obstetrician and gynecologist in California. She is the author of the “The Vagina Bible” and writes The Cycle, a column on women’s health that appears regularly in Styles.
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