Going to medical appointments guided by the mother figure is a necessary initiation process in a history of health management that a person will later continue without company. The inevitable question here is: when should a mother stop entering the doctor’s office with her daughter? The fact that TikTok is full of skits that poke fun at what happens when a mother joins her daughter at a medical consultation proves that this happens everywhere.
The experts consulted agree that there is no exact, universal moment when it is convenient to stop going to the clinic in the company of a mother, as it all depends on the kind of relationship they have. “In adolescence there are probably many more taboos, which sometimes makes going with a mother all the more embarrassing, but sometimes they go together because they are practically friends and they tell each other everything. Some actually drag each other to the gynecology consultation their whole lives, because for some reason nobody likes to go, so they tend to go accompanied,” says Maite Fernández, director of the functional gynecology unit at Clínica Planas in Barcelona, Spain.
Sex and substance use: the taboos
As specialist in family and community medicine Alan Almazán explains, the two issues that can be uncomfortable to bring up in front of a mother are sexuality and substance use. “I believe that when someone has the autonomy to have money, do certain things and have sexual relations, they must also have the responsibility of assuming the duties and exercising the rights that the access to a health service entails. I am in favor of getting them used to start conversations; in fact, we are trained for it. We have to ask permission to ask certain questions and we have to ask if they are comfortable with us asking them about their sex life. It is then that we ask if they have intercourse, if they use barrier methods. Sometimes we even have to ask twice, asking for permission, to create an environment of trust so that they don’t see you as a teacher that is going to punish them,” he points out.
“Sometimes, when a teenager comes with her mother, I notice the faces that she makes, as if she were trying to tell me not to ask her certain things in front of her mom. When I see that the daughter is uncomfortable, there are questions that I don’t ask in front of the mother; I do it later, when I’m exploring her. There are also times when the mothers leave the office to give them privacy,” says Fernández. Dr. Marta Sánchez-Dehesa points out that among the situations in which it may be preferable for a mother not to enter the consultation are those related to intimate health, in case the patient wishes to establish a relationship of personal trust with her doctor regarding any symptoms or problems she may have. “If they are not comfortable sharing details of their sex life with their mother, if they are of legal age, it is best that they enter alone,” she says.
Almazán explains that it is not unusual for patients to attend the consultation accompanied until they are 18. The problem is that if he finds it necessary to ask about their sex life or substance use, he has to find a tactful way to say that it would be convenient to give them some space to build trust with the medical professional. “There are some who do not understand that they are independent people and that they are becoming adults. I tell them that the best thing would be to have a few minutes alone with the patient to ask her some questions. I ask permission from both the adult and the patient. They have never refused, and when they leave the room, I explain confidentiality and their right to come on their own, without permission and without the need for their parents’ intervention. One has to let them know that nothing they say will leave the consultation. I am neither their teacher nor their older brother; I have to maintain confidentiality, and they usually react very well when you explain it to them in a straightforward, natural way,” he says.
As an example, the doctor recalls one occasion when the patient claimed to have no problem with her mother being in front of her while he asked her some questions. Then, when he asked if she had had unprotected sex, he realized by looking at her mother’s face that it was best for her to leave the room so that the girl could express herself more intimately. Perhaps what should be encouraged is the sex education at home, as well as a normalization of sex; still, despite everything, if you are around 40 years old and still blush when the doctor asks you about your sex life, you are not alone. This is how Marta Núñez, who works in pharmaceutical sales, experiences this aspect of her life: “Even though I am 40, I admit that if the doctor asks me about my sex life, I feel extremely embarrassed. However, I continue to see her, because it is a habit that was instilled since childhood,” she concludes.
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