4 Current Medical Practices That’ll One Day Look Creepy as Hell
Check out how the field of medicine worked in the past, and it looks laughably primitive at best. At worst, you’ll have trouble believing anyone could possibly have agreed to the sort of stuff they got up to back then. It sounds like someone’s playing a joke on you by telling you these facts — or like someone was playing a joke on the patient. This is true whether we’re talking about stuff in ancient times or even medical practices from a generation or two ago.
The same may be true when our distant descendants look back at our own strange ways of healing each other. To them, it will sound like we were all living in a horror movie. Or, as with the following practices, like we were all living in a porno.
‘Medical Examinations? Sounds More Like Sex to Me’
Doctors have grown more and more skilled at looking inside our bodies to spy what’s going wrong in there. Only occasionally do they now need to slice us open to peer within (a method that, originally, worked best on dead subjects, or swiftly resulted in dead subjects). We instead came up with X-rays, then ultrasound, then CT, then PET, then MRI and more. Conceivably, in the future, doctors will scan patients and learn everything they need to know, noninvasively, with zero discomfort.
At that point, how do you think someone will feel looking back at a gyno examination chair, which spread the patient’s legs apart?
We call these doctor visits “intimate exams,” and our friend from the future, whom we contact via time travel (let’s call them Zarno), will think this was a most intimate encounter indeed. More details about this exam would seem to confirm their suspicions that this was just sex with extra steps. The doctor inserts his fingers into the woman? In the future, they call this fingerbanging, and it is an exclusively sexual practice. If the doctor is palpating the patient with the other hand at the same time, as is standard, Zarno can only assume this is an attempt to deliver two kinds of orgasm. As for the practice of putting fingers in the vagina and anus simultaneously, well, Zarno is an expert at this move and can’t imagine how the doctor fooled anyone into thinking this served a medical purpose.
Of course, gynecology’s normal today, and the taboo against gynecology is currently a relic of a dumber era. But the timeline of medicine isn’t a simple progression from “ew, sex” to “it’s no big deal.” You know how, today, we hear 19th-century stories of doctors masturbating women as a supposed hysteria cure? “Haha, I bet both doctor and patient got a kick out of that!” we say. Zarno will say the same thing about us.
As for men, it’s not like their checkups are especially chaste. A doctor inserts fingers into male patients as well — and Zarno is hardly surprised at this point, because if a patient has no vagina, and they go to the doctor for sex, the anus is the most obvious route. You might explain that men needed rectal exams for their prostates, and this just proves Zarno’s point. Surely some scan existed that could detect the prostate’s size, but if you want the prostate massaged, for the sake of pleasure, fingers are the only way. And the doctor would cup the guy’s balls at the same time? How could that not be sexual?
No, no, you’d say. This was all very professional. For starters, in all these examinations, whether on men or women, the doctor would be wearing latex gloves. “Latex?!” says Zarno. “That’s what you just told me 21st-century folk used to wear during sex, on their penises!”
‘Tampons? That’s a Band-Aid Solution — A Perverted One’
You’ve surely already heard a run-down of people’s issues with tampons, whether from someone extolling the virtues of their menstrual cup or a stand-up comedian who decided to riff on the first thing they saw when they were brainstorming jokes back at home. Or maybe you heard about some culture that never used tampons and now are scandalized by the idea. Maybe you dismissed this latter group as old-fashioned prudes. Right now, though, imagine someone looking at tampons not as a new solution but as something people used centuries ago. Zarno might look at one and say, “When you were bleeding, you just plugged yourself up? Why didn’t you stop the bleeding, once and for all?”
In Zarno’s time, people still naturally menstruate — genes won’t evolve past that anytime soon. But stopping menstruation is a trivial matter of getting the right hormones in your system, and everyone in the future takes that route. The only reason to ever dispense with hormones and grow a thick uterine lining will be if you want to get pregnant, at which point your periods will halt for a new reason. Pregnancy, by the way, will happen the moment you want it to, and no other time, thanks to an easy procedure they’ll invent. People will have as much sex as they like, but they won’t have sex in order to get pregnant. The very idea of thinking about babies while in the middle of sex will sound deeply wrong.
Even in the 20th century, the birth-control pill could have largely eliminated periods, but the usual course of the medication involved a week of needless “placebo pills” that made women bleed on schedule. The motivation behind these placebo pills is disputed; one confusing explanation is doctors thought you’d forget to take your pill if you stopped getting periods. Zarno won’t understand this at all. Then they’ll get a look at this device that people used to treat the symptoms of periods, not the cause:
“Oh,” they say. “I get it now. That’s a sex toy.” It most definitely was not, you say, and this takes some convincing. To Zarno, the idea that people tried to just soak up blood in this way still sounds absurd. After all, when people bled for other reasons, from some injury, no one ever stuffed cotton into their wounds, right?
As it happened, people did do that to deal with wounds, hence the popular (but misleading) factoid that tampons were originally used to treat gunshots. But Zarno doesn’t know this, and it takes additional arguing from you to explain there’s nothing erotic about inserting a tampon. “Fine,” says Zarno eventually, “but whoever invented this must have thought there was.”
Clearly, some dude enjoyed the thought of where this phallic object was going. Clearly, that dude went on to become King.
‘Podiatrist? You Mean Foot Fetishist’
With each decade, feet become more sexualized. Not so long ago, when people saw bare feet pop up repeatedly on-screen, they had no idea this proved the director’s predilection for such imagery, and it fell to us to inform the world. We’ve moved from there to the present, in which some noted figures refuse to ever show feet in public, for fear of fans gratifying themselves over the sight.
Clearly, the day will come when feet are considered the most erotic body part of all. Also, we’ll have eliminated all of today’s foot issues, thanks to technological advancements in footwear. So, people of the future will look back with extreme skepticism on the idea that foot medicine was its own specialty. For someone to pursue medicine and then to decide to dedicate their career to fondling feet rather than saving lives, well, Zarno knows only one possible reason for that: a foot fetish.
In reality, while podiatrists are not MDs, they are indeed doctors. They completed four years of postgraduate education plus years of residency in addition to the basic bachelor’s degree. Other doctors pursue careers in urology or gynecology without any sexual urge of their own guiding them, but this point won’t convince Zarno, who already does believe those doctors are sex fiends. Also, some of those doctors are sex fiends, which is all the ammo Zarno needs to condemn them all.
“And what about this ‘reflexology’,” asks Zarno next. “Are you going to tell me that these people, who rubbed feet without any medical degree, were legit, and the clients were actual patients?” No, you concede. They were not legit. Those people must have been perverts — practitioners and patients both.
‘You Used to Pull Babies Out Through WHERE?’
The Caesarean is a newer operation than many people realize. While popular myth says it’s named after Julius Caesar, who was delivered via Caesarean, that’s not true. The procedure didn’t exist back then; surgery wasn’t advanced enough. In Roman days, they did have a policy called Lex Caesarea, which said that when a pregnant woman dies, doctors should cut the corpse open and try to extract a baby, but that’s very different from the operation on a living patient that’s the Caesarean we know today. It’s possible that the Caesar family name comes from Lex Caesarea, rather than the other way around. Either way, Julius wasn’t born via Caesarean (or by the Lex Caesarea process, as his mother lived till he was around 50).
The first time a doctor removed a baby surgically and the mother survived was probably the 17th century. As late as 1865, if a doctor tried a Caesarean, there was an 85 percent chance the patient would die. This was a last resort, not something anyone chose for fun. Today, the choice is very different. Caesareans might be a little more risky than vaginal deliveries overall, or also might not be at all depending on which data you look at. In nearly all cases, they’re more convenient.
Caesareans are rapidly becoming more common. Looking at how the trend’s going, we shouldn’t expect Caesareans to ever become the only method of childbirth, but we can still imagine what a world like that would be like. Or if we want to be realistic, we can imagine a world where Caesareans are the default option.
Kids will probably first know about pregnancy before they first know about the mechanics of childbirth, simply by seeing pregnant people (you might have grown up this way as well). “Where do babies come from” isn’t a question any kid asks anymore; they know babies come from tummies but just aren’t clear on how they get in or how they get out. When it comes to the latter point, parents of the future will answer this honestly without any embarrassment. The mother goes to the hospital, and doctors cut the baby out then sew her back up again.
At some point long after learning this — maybe very long after, depending on which future we’re imagining — this kid learns another option exists, and it used to be the only option. “They came out through the vagina?” asks the kid, incredulous. “How? There’s no room!” By this point, they know about sex, and they figure a vagina fits a penis without all that much leeway. There’s no way it can fit a baby.
You explain to them the whole history of childbirth, including those details we outlined above on the history of Caesareans. You explain vaginal deliveries were normal and inevitable for thousands of years. The 21st century is when things really get confusing for Zarno, though. In the 21st century, most people could choose Cesareans if they wanted, but two-thirds chose not to? “Why?” they demand from you. “Why would I ever want my baby inside my vagina?!”
Remember, in the world of the future, sex is divorced from pregnancy. Also, this is a world without gyno exams or tampons. The only reason for anything to go up there is pleasure, so this sounds like a mother using an entire baby as a dildo, which would be depravity of the highest order. Sheepishly, you admit that some women did experience orgasms while giving birth. Maybe a thousand women did every day.
There were a lot of reasons for delivering vaginally, you explain. Caesareans came with their own risks, making some argue that they were unnecessary and shouldn’t be so common. They also cost more. And some mothers just liked the idea of doing it naturally. “Naturally?” says Zarno, staring at the pamphlets you handed over. “There’s nothing natural about lying on your back, legs spread like that — I already told you why I figure doctors were into women doing that. There’s nothing natural about medicine at all, so that’s a stupid argument. You might as well say antibiotics aren’t natural, or anesthesia isn’t natural.”
And now you explain to them that, yes, to keep the birth natural, many mothers turned down epidurals. “Oh,” says Zarno. “So, people back then were masochists. You should have led with that.”
You sigh at this time traveler, at how they’re more advanced in many ways but still unable to understand so much. For lots of people, even with the pain involved, the natural way has its attractions, and it might confer additional benefits on the child that we don’t know about. It’s not so different from why, despite the convenience and availability of formulas, many mothers choose to breastfeed. After you say this, Zarno turns to you, slowly. “Wait,” he says. “Breast what?!”