If you thought you knew everything about hysterectomies – think again. Dr. Jean Elson reveals a whole new set of issues surrounding the removal of your uterus and ovaries. Please share this interview with anyone considering this type of surgery.
Coming up on the Next Holy Hormones Honey! Podcast
Dr. Jean Elson is Senior Lecturer Emerita, Department of Sociology, The University of New Hampshire. Her specialization areas include gender; medical sociology; sociology of family; and sexual behavior. Dr. Elson’s book, “Am I Still a Woman?” Hysterectomy and Gender Identity (Temple University Press) attracted positive attention from women’s health advocates and medical sociologists, and was the focus of a forum in a top professional journal. She also contributed a chapter to Our Bodies Ourselves Menopause and published several journal articles based upon her research. Jean has held several elective offices in the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and served on the UNH President’s Commission on the Status of Women. University of New Hampshire students honored Jean with the UNH Pink Triangle Award and the UNH Vagina Warrior Award. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology and a joint M.A. in sociology and women’s studies from Brandeis University, as well as a master’s degree in educational psychology, and is a former AAUW American Fellow. Dr. Elson’s current research project is a socio-historical analysis of gender and class issues inherent in an early 20th century divorce case, which reveals some interesting women’s health issues.
Dr. Elson is a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (of which I am also a member). We are group of feminist scholars and advocates from around the world who are the watchdogs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Jean sent an email out to the group about her research cited in an article in The Huffington Post (also posted here).
“Gender identity is one of the most fundamental means by which individuals are recognized, both by others and by themselves,” explained Dr. Jean Elson, Ph.D., MA, MEd, sociologist and senior lecturer emeritus for the department of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “It is our core inner feeling of who we are as women, men, both, or neither.”
In Elson’s research, as discussed in her book, Am I Still a Woman? Hysterectomy and Gender Identity, she found that gender identity is produced through personal embodied experience. Depending on the culture and the individual, this gender identity could be affected if a woman experiences changes to her body. “Most women in my study found hysterectomy a crisis that prompted them to examine the connection between sexual reproductive organs and gender identity.”
Although the uterus itself is only a fraction of a woman’s gender identity, its presence — or absence — is part of how she relates to the world around her. This is especially true concerning her intimate relationships. The quality of relationships plays a significant role in whether a woman is able to maintain or reclaim gender identity after surgery.  Elson explained that romantic partners could either reinforce or calm a woman’s fears surrounding the loss of sexual attractiveness post-hysterectomy.
“Sexuality is often a basic component of feminine gender identity,” explained Dr. Elson. “Some respondents found they no longer felt they measured up to appropriate cultural standards for sexual attraction, including maintaining a youthful appearance, a slim figure, and physical flawlessness.” Women who expressed concern regarding diminished sexual attractiveness were predominantly heterosexual. In addition, several women of differing sexual orientations perceived changes in their own sexual desire or response as a result of hysterectomy.
A woman’s perception of losing sexual attractiveness is compounded when sexual dysfunction becomes a reality following surgery. Earlier this year, one study found that some women who underwent hysterectomy for benign reasons experienced sexual dysfunction and increased depression.
Review for Dr. Elson’s book “Am I Still a Woman? Hysterectomy and Gender Identity
“A strong addition to the literatures on women’s health and gender identity, Am I Still a Woman is a readable, original contribution to feminist scholarship. Impressive and fascinating, this book is fluidly written and at times hard to put down. It should enjoy a wide audience.”
—Alexandra Dundas Todd, Professor and Chair, Sociology Department, Suffolk University, and author of Intimate Adversaries: Cultural Conflicts Between Doctors and Women Patients
Recent scientific findings regarding the potential dangers associated with hormone replacement therapies bring renewed attention to the relationship between women’s bodies and gender identity. In Am I Still A Woman? Jean Elson offers the testimony of women who have thought deeply about this issue as a result of gynecological surgery.
For the women in this book, gynecological surgery for benign conditions proved to be a crisis that prompted questions about the meanings of sexual and reproductive organs in relation to being female and feminine. Is a woman who no longer menstruates still a woman? What about a woman who can no longer bear children? Elson looks closely at the differences in responses to understand the impact of surgery and lost fertility on sexuality and partnerships as well as the steps some women take to deal with a sense of a stigmatized identity. Whether they reconceptualized their old notions of what it means to be a woman or put a new focus on making themselves attractive, they made conscious efforts to reclaim their female identity and femininity. This book provides a wealth of insight into the choices women make regarding gynecological surgery and maintaining their sense of themselves as women.
Hysterectomies have become the #1 surgery worldwide. More and more women are having these procedures at an earlier and earlier age – even in their 20’s and 30’s. As is true with most medical procedures, the source of the issue often goes unexplored – the answer simply being – “We’ll just remove it.” Women are also part of this consent because so many are in so much pain month after month with severe PMS and PMDD. All they want is relief. We need to explore why our menstrual cycle and our endocrine organs are so out of whack – causing pain and misery. Taking out the uterus and the ovaries – are not the solution and may even present other mental, emotional and physical issues of women and their partners.
Join Dr. Elson and myself for this important podcast on Sunday, November 15, only on The Liberty Beacon Town Crier.