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A black and white issue? Learning to see the intersectional and racialized dimensions of gynecological pain

Abstract

Population-based data suggest that African-American and Latina women in the United States are equally or more likely to complain of vulvar pain than are their White counterparts, yet these two groups of women remain largely missing from published clinical studies. This essay describes a set of interrelated variables that contribute to this discrepancy: (1) clinicians’ racialized perceptions of genital-sexual pain, and the diagnostic trajectories that map on to these perceptions; (2) discriminatory health-care practices that undertreat the pain of racial minorities; and (3) the stigmatized and “unmentionable” nature of genital pain, a condition for which up to half of symptomatic women do not seek treatment. I use the feminist theoretical concept of intersectionality to argue that racializing framing mechanisms intersect with well-documented discriminatory clinical practices and a gendered embarrassment unique to female genitalia, making it exceedingly difficult for Black and Latina women to report their vulvar pain to primarily White providers. I conclude by offering strategies by which all clinicians can better identify and treat the gynecological pain conditions of their Black and Latina patients.

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Correspondence to Christine M. Labuski.

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Labuski, C.M. A black and white issue? Learning to see the intersectional and racialized dimensions of gynecological pain. Soc Theory Health 15, 160–181 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41285-017-0027-4

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Keywords

  • racialization
  • genital pain
  • gender
  • health disparities
  • intersectionality
  • women’s health