November 19, 1997

Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from Both Ends of the Speculum

Author Affiliations

John A. Burns School of Medicine University of Hawaii Honolulu


by Terry Kapsalis, 216 pp, with illus, $49.95, ISBN 0-8223-1928-4, paper, $16.95, ISBN 0-8223-1921-7, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;278(19):1630-1631. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550190100062

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How could a book about pelvic examinations be interesting? Public Privates is intersting—and radical, political, and extreme—yet it contains little-known information and enlightening perspectives.

It might seem strange that someone would write a book about pelvic examinations, but the author is a gynecology teaching associate (GTA), and 25 years ago, when GTAs began to teach breast and pelvic examinations to medical students, that seemed strange. Now it is commonplace, a valued and accepted way of teaching. (Since the teaching has changed, perhaps the practice of pelvic examination might also change. Criticism of traditional practice emerged with the women's movement of the 1970s, and reformers advocated the idea of women inserting their own speculums and looking at their cervixes. To date, this practice is not widespread but it would seem a useful option for selected patients.)

Although paternalistic practices have been reduced over the past 25 years thanks to the