I used to have a gynecologist that I had an, er, interesting relationship with. She wasn't super old, but she also wasn't super young, either. What she was, though, was super set in her ways.
Every few months, I'd go to her office for a standard appointment: pap smear, STD and pregnancy testing, and a general conversation about both my current and past sex life.
There was one time I went specifically to see her because I thought I had an STD (my vagina was itchy!). It turned out to just be a harmless UTI, but my gyno seemed... concerned.
"You know," she said, looking at me sternly, "you could erase some of these fears you came into the office with if you were in a monogamous relationship. It might have saved you a trip!"
She didn't keep the fact that she didn't approve of my sex life a secret ("Hey lady, being in a serious, monogamous relationship doesn't fit into my life plans right now, OK?!"), which made it impossible for me to open up to her further about that a-hole guy I drunkenly had sex with, and how I was still concerned about my sexual health, despite using condoms.
So, I eventually switched gynecologists. It was the right thing to do. But even now, I go to my local free clinic, not my new gyno, when I want to get an STD test.
And when I do go to my lady doctor, I lie about my number of sexual partners.
I know I'm not the only person who does. In fact, In our recent "Sex ED" survey of 240 millennials, we found that 20 percent of women and 14 percent of men lie or give a ballpark number to their doctors when asked about how many sexual partners they've had.
Why Millennials Lie To Our Docs About Our Sex Lives
Now, to me, even innocently "fudging the truth" and saying you've slept with 5 men instead of 10 is flat-out lying. And it makes me wonder why we do it.
As Nicole Prause, PH.D., a sexual psychophysiologist and neuroscientist, explains, it's an unintentional way for us to keep ourselves in line with society's expectations. So, if we're at all embarrassed by our number, or if we don't remember the exact amount, we may "estimate in ways consistent with our gender's expectations."
This explains why, when my girl friends and I have fudged the truth to our gynos, we've said we've had less sexual partners than we've actually had (exhibit A on why slut-shaming women should stop immediately! God forbid we don't remember how many we've actually had). And, why guys may inflate their numbers.
But doing so is a lose-lose. "You are quite possibly risking your health by not disclosing your sexual behaviors to your provider," Prause says.
You are quite possibly risking your health by not disclosing your sexual behaviors to your provider.
If your doc doesn't have the correct or full scoop about your sexual practices — such as how many partners you've had, which sexual acts you've been doing, and whether or not you're using condoms — she could give you the wrong advice on how to keep your sex life safe and fulfilling, or not test you for something that you should be tested for.
After all, this is YOUR body that you and your doctor are talking about, so any care should be catered to YOU.
How Doctors Are Playing A Role
OK, OK, so lying is bad. We get it. But it doesn't exactly help when you throw a judge-y or preachy doctor into the mix.
"Many providers are not trained in how to take a sexual history, so they may be insensitive, rude or provide false information about sex," Prause says.
For instance, Prause recalls an incident when a conservative nurse working at a university's health clinic was telling students who had been diagnosed with HPV that they "probably" had cancer. Um, giant mistake. Not only was that NOT true, but as you can imagine, those patients were incredibly upset.
Let's be crystal clear, though: Most gynecologists, nurse practitioners, urologists, and doctors know what they're talking about and wouldn't shame, deceive, or misinform their patients. They want you to give you the best care possible, and they are ready, willing and able to talk about anything and everything with their patients.
"But, if you have a provider who you feel is not adequately assessing you, seems to be uncomfortable, or has provided you with any false information about sex, you have every right to leave them," says Prause.
It's as easy as doing a Google search in your area to find another doc or clinic who accepts your health insurance.
What You Can Do To Change It
First off, it's CRUCIAL to find a doctor that you trust, and one that, preferably, you can continue seeing for a long time. This way, you can develop a relationship and level with them if you have any burning questions.
Second, even if there's a tiny voice in your head suggesting you "fudge" your sexual number, or any details relating to your sex life, don't do it. Just tell the truth, whether you've slept with zero people this year or 20, have tried anal or haven't even given a blow job.
Doing so will ensure you're getting the advice, care, and testing that you need, which will lead to a safer and more self-aware sex life.
Read more from our Sex ED series.