In Utah, abstinence is taught in sex education classes and premarital sex is verboten among the state’s heavily Mormon population. So many women, unsure of what might happen on their wedding nights, rely on “premarital exams” with gynecologists for sex education. However, much of that education treats sex more like a medical procedure than a completely normal part of life.
The Washington Post reports that OB/GYN and sex educator Jennifer Gunter recently discovered a page on the University of Utah’s Department of OB/GYN website titled “Getting Ready for Your Wedding Night With a Premarital Exam.” She was alarmed to find that the university was promoting premarital exams and offering education about stretching the vagina using a dilator in the weeks prior to first engaging in penetrative sex:
“In a Sept. 9 blog post, Gunter described what she saw on the University of Utah Health website: the suggestion that a woman schedule a premarital exam ‘to confirm that her body is ready for sex’ and explore using a vaginal dilator, as first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. The health-care system also suggested a link between condoms and urinary tract infections, and it recommended that women consider getting antibiotics in case they develop a UTI on their honeymoon.”
Gunter said the practice of treating sex like a medical condition that requires strenuous preparation on a woman’s part “seems very patriarchal” and “not scientific.” Other experts like Kristin Hodson, a Utah-based sexual health advocate, say these exams are traditional in a culture where generations of women have not had much access to information about their bodies or sex prior to their wedding nights. However, Hodson also worries about the dangers of talking about sex in such a needlessly clinical way:
“Although Hodson said she supports the exams’ goal of connecting women with sexual health care, she said she is concerned that some of the commonly used language frames sex as a medical issue, rather than as a normal human activity. Hodson said promoting the use of a dilator, which is unnecessary for most people, is an example of how premarital exams can make sexual intimacy sound like a problem to be solved.”
Since Gunter published her blog post, University of Utah Health has changed the language on its web page. The term “premarital exam” has been replaced by “sexual health visits,” and now the website says the clinic does not support taking antibiotics before sex as a precaution against UTIs. References to vaginal dilators have been removed. There is also still no information on where men entering into heterosexual relationships might take some sort of exam that tests their knowledge around the general location of the clitoris.