Fear of the stigma associated with reproductive health services has always been one of the reasons why youth and unmarried individuals avoid making use of such services. This stigma imposes a great deal of mental stress, fear, and depression on patients and causes delays in the diagnosis and treatment of their conditions.
Stereotypical Thinking Patterns in Society
- Unmarried Women Unlikely to Have Reproductive Health-Related Issues:
Ruling out the possibility that unmarried women may have reproductive health-related diseases appears to be rooted in our thinking. Regardless of your marital status, you may suffer from gynecological disorders like other diseases. Society does not yet realize that all. Unmarried women may have gynecological diseases and may need to refer to a gynecologist.
In other words, it is commonly believed that reproductive health-related diseases are mainly caused by genital infections, which in turn are caused by sexual intercourse. It has been established in our country that infections and gynecological problems occur after marriage. That is, an unmarried woman cannot have such issues.
- Unmarried Women not Needing Reproductive Health Services:
When society rules out the possibility of gynecological diseases among unmarried women, this population group’s need for these services and for information on these services is overlooked. In addition, unmarried women are not considered by society among the target groups for such services. On the other hand, families deem it unnecessary to provide any information on this subject to unmarried women. In this situation, services provided by governmental and private sectors appear to be specifically targeted at married women only and not available to unmarried women. Most people think the healthcare system is there only for married women and that only married women should use these centers.
Fear of Being Judged and Labeled by Others
One of the concerns of unmarried women when referring to reproductive health centers is the fear of being judged and labeled by others. This concern comprises two notions of fear, i.e., being labeled for having premarital sexual intercourse and being labeled a flawed woman.
- Fear of Being Labeled for Having Sexual Intercourse
This fear was rooted in the cultural-religious backgrounds of participants’ communities, which banned premarital sexual relations. The women were concerned about being negatively labeled for having premarital sexual relations upon making use of reproductive healthcare services. If one is unmarried and has a gynecological problem, others will think that this individual has certainly had immoral sexual relations and is probably suffering from a serious disease.
The other issue that worries unmarried women in this context is their fear of having their virginal status impaired during a gynecologist’s inspection, as intact virginity indicates not having had sexual relations. This issue makes women not seek out these types of services.
- Fear of Being Labeled a Flawed Woman
Unmarried women’s fear of others knowing about their gynecological health. It is revealed that others would view them as flawed women if they had these types of health issues. It is important for unmarried individuals to have someone they can trust, someone who respects their confidentiality. They are afraid to disclose their issues and as a result, their future lives and married lives are hurt by this.
Participants stated that some families behaved toward unmarried girls’ reproductive health-related issues with bias and discrimination, that is, unmarried women are faced either with families forbidding them from receiving these services or overlooking stated reproductive health-related problems.
- Families Forbidding Women from Receiving Health Services
Most women live with their families until they are married and are mostly dependent on their family for reproductive health services. This stereotypical way of thinking at a societal level, as well as women’s fear of being negatively labeled, have caused unmarried women to not refer to healthcare professionals upon experiencing gynecological issues and due to constraints imposed by their family.
- Overlooking Stated Reproductive Health-Related Problems
Feeling Ashamed of Seeking out Reproductive Health Services
The shame unmarried women experience as a result of receiving reproductive health services is part of the stigma associated with seeking out these services.
- Feeling Ashamed of Receiving Services Commonly Used by Married Individuals
It is not customary in our society for unmarried individuals to seek out reproductive health services, they felt ashamed upon referring to pharmacies, medical centers, and gynecologist offices, and thus avoid these centers.
- Delaying Their Referral to the Point Where Their Condition Gets Serious
The shame and stigma that unmarried women experience causes them to delay referring to reproductive health centers upon occurrence of reproductive health issues until symptoms become unbearable. As such, they sometimes refer to centers with a deteriorated condition due to too much procrastination.
- Taking no Measures for Receiving Services and Information
The participants, most of whom suffer from unresolved reproductive health-related issues, take no measures for receiving information and services when the symptoms were bearable.
So, the he fear of being labeled, discrimination, and feeling ashamed of receiving reproductive health services constituted the stigma attributed to unmarried women using reproductive health services.