Study Finds Gender Differences in Information Provided to Patients Seeking Elective Sterilization

According to a new study from Iowa State University, there is a sharp contrast in what is provided to women and men when they seek information on elective sterilization from their doctor. The research team believes that this is due to the society expectations that women should be mothers and those who are not are missing something.

“This idea exists in our society that women want to be mothers and women who do not reproduce are empty or unfulfilled. We don’t see this connection with men. Men don’t need to have children to be considered a fulfilled man,” said lead author Sara Davis, who recently graduated from Iowa State University. “These stereotypes do not disappear when you walk into your doctor’s office and these ideologies affect how doctors counsel patients.”

For their study, the research team analyzed vasectomy and tubal ligation pamphlets provided in clinics and online, along with dozens of blogs and social media posts featuring stories of patients seeking elective sterilization. They found that the information provided for vasectomies was much more positive than what was provided for tubal ligations. For example, the vasectomy pamphlets tended to feature photos of happy families and couples, while tubal ligation pamphlets featured women who looked unhappy, concerned, or confused. Additionally, the tubal ligation content typically focused on risks and discomforts, rather than benefits. It also reinforced gender roles by suggesting that the “couple” make this decision, implying a woman should not request this procedure on her own.

“There’s this unquestioned norm that women’s reproductive lives are up for discussion and anyone can discuss what is best for women,” said Abby Dubisar, an associate professor of English at Iowa State University and co-author of the study. “We’ve been persuaded to believe women do not have the right to make their own choices and what options they deserve are a matter of public debate.”

Since this gender bias exists, the authors recommend that women do their research on these procedures before talking to their doctor. Additionally, the researchers urge doctors to avoid suggesting women talk with their husbands about the procedure, provide information rather than counseling, and discuss benefits as well as risks with their patients. The researchers suggest that both doctors and women seeking elective sterilization review the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines and recommendations regarding this procedure.

The full study, “Communicating Elective Sterilization: A Feminist Perspective,” was published in the journal Rhetoric of Health & Medicine. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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