The first time Crystal Wang had a gynecological exam was at a large medical center in the central business district of Beijing. When she arrived at the examination area, she was taken aback by a bold red sign that said 处女不能检查, or “virgins may not be examined.”
Crystal, who was 22 at the time, was not a virgin, but she was also unmarried—a combination she didn’t expect would go over well with hospital authorities. “I lied and ticked the married box on the personal information forms,” she said.
Throughout the course of Crystal’s examination, the doctor and nurses were extremely kind. They asked her when she planned to have a baby, and although there was a huge line of women outside waiting to be examined, they answered all of her questions thoroughly.
As she left the exam room, she noticed that another young woman who had been waiting was getting turned away. Unlike Crystal, the woman had indicated on her form that she was not married; after telling the nurse that she was sexually active and requesting an exam, she was begrudgingly given a number and directed to the back of the line.
“They were treating her like trash,” Crystal said. “They were forcing her to make very personal admissions in public and clearly not giving her the same respect or attention they had given me.”
When Crystal got home later that evening, the first thing she did was very carefully hide all the paper traces of her doctor’s visit so that her mother wouldn’t find them. “She would go bonkers,” said Crystal, explaining that for unmarried women in China—especially those who still live with their parents—a visit to the gynecologist is a scarlet letter of sorts. Pap smears and pelvic exams are considered routine for women who are married, but can be a flagrant violation of propriety for everyone else
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