Should your doctor see you naked?

Elisabeth Donato, 11/05/2011Sometimes, the legendary American prudery gets in your face in unusual ways.

One of them is your typical visit to your physician for a full check-up. The usual drill is that you wait for a while in the waiting room, nervously flipping the pages of Happy Medical News for Senior Citizens, until a nurse calls you into the inner sanctum, where you first follow her (a male nurse is a rarity in an American doctor’s office, less so in hospitals) into a little room where you get weighed (that’s when you realize that it’s time to hop on the dieting wagon again!) and your temperature is taken (it’s done routinely, even if you’re not sick.)

The nurse then takes you to the examination room, where she takes your blood pressure, after which she reviews health issues that you may have, and, then, invites you to undress and to don the obligatory ‘doctor’s office gown’, a flimsy piece of cloth or, worse yet, paper material.

Why do you get to wear this ridiculous garment for the entire duration of your examination by your M.D.? Well, because, God forbid, Dr. Feelgood cannot – in any way, shape or form – see you in your full, glorious nakedness.

Which, you will agree with me, is preposterous.

How, indeed, can a physician properly assess the health status of a patient without getting a good, solid look at his/her entirely naked body? Having been born and raised in France, I spent a good amount of time buck-naked in front of miscellaneous general practitioners and specialists and, never for a minute, did I ever feel self-conscious, embarrassed or, worse yet, violated, because I was fully naked in front of a person who was not one of my parents, my spouse, or a romantic partner.

Elisabeth Donato, 11/05/2011

In the opening sequence of the 2007 French film Ensemble, c’est tout Camille, the female protagonist (played by Audrey Tautou) exits the trailer that serves as the examining facility for la Médecine du Travail. As any French employee, she has to submit to a yearly government-ordered and administered physical. Two of her female workmates are waiting for their turn on a bench, across from the trailer. One of them asks Camille (about the Médecine du Travail doctor):

– Y t’a examinée toute nue? (Did he examine you completely naked?)

To which Camille replies:

– Ben, évidemment! (Well, of course!)

The other woman adds, however:

– T’as gardé ton slip et ton soutif, au moins… (You kept your panties and your bra on, at least…)

To which Camille does not respond.

This dialogue reflects the common French practice of being examined fully naked by a doctor. It also alludes to the fact that not everyone is fine with this practice – and that some women would rather keep their undergarments on, especially if the doctor is from La Médecine du Travail and, as such, a complete unknown.

But back to American prudery, and an American quirk that goes against America’s legendary Puritan tradition: Americans of all ilk, who don’t know each other from Adam, constantly run into each other buck-naked in fitness centers and swimming pool locker rooms, where they prance in the nude as if it were nothing at all. Does American prudery stop at the locker room’s door? Please, someone, explain this to me!

Elisabeth Donato, 11/05/2011

Frankly, I’d rather be naked in front of my doctor than in front of total strangers in a locker room. Of course, I am well aware that locker rooms are separate for men and women, but I feel as self-conscious being undressed in front of women as I would in front of men.

I am not one of the naturist persuasion (although I have a secret admiration for those who are), but there are elements of the relationship of Americans with their bodies that I do not quite get. Not being able to be seen completely naked by their doctor is certainly one.

All images © Elisabeth Dunato

About the Contributor

Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan

I am a native of France, and a retired French university professor living in the USA. I return to France every year and love discovering new places I have not yet visited. I am interested in issues of bilingualism and expatriate identity. I enjoy good food, great books, and all kinds of music.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Shannon Guy Nov 17, 2011 at 7:20 PM - Reply


    This may be a little off an a tangent or even another post for another day, but I find the bizarre the censorship in the US, UK and Australia. While in contintental Europe, censorship in films and television is more geared to protecting children from violence, even if it means showing a little nudity and sex, I find the opposite in the aforementioned countries – have all the killing you want, but if there is the slightest glimpse of the naked human form or a bit of sex, the film will ended up with an 18+ or, at the very least, 15+ classification.

    I exaggerate a little but I think it is very much two sides of the same coin – puritan attitudes to nudity and sex but less strict attitudes to violence, in the US, UK and Australia.

    Of course, my hypothesis doesn’t seem to be supported by the music videos that seem to be coming out of these countries in this era but I wonder if there are different censorship standards applied to those.

    Anyway, maybe a little off topic but perhaps another example of certain continental Europeans having a far more relaxed relationship with nudity, as a rule, than Americans, British and Australians.

    Thanks for the article.


  2. Julie Gourichon Nov 18, 2011 at 1:48 AM - Reply

    C’est vrai que je ne me suis jamais posée la question de la nudité chez mon médecin. C’est quelque chose de totalement naturel. Je ne le vois pas comme un “homme” en fait, c’est un praticien qui est là pour m’examiner et pas pour me zieuter. C’est son travail en fait!

    Finalement, c’est vrai que ton article amène à se poser des questions. Pourquoi est-on obligés de se déshabiller pour être examinés par son médecin? Si aux Etats-Unis, les médecins peuvent te soigner sans te voir nue alors pourquoi en France, le fait-on? C’est une bonne remise en question. Pourtant, il ne me semble pas que notre pudeur soit différente. Quand je suis allée aux USA, je n’ai pas eu cette impression en tout cas. Je suis interpellée par ton article !!

  3. Wayne Apr 5, 2024 at 12:18 PM - Reply

    I totally agree. I don’t know why patient modesty is such a big issue in America.
    It didn’t used to be that way until recent years. Now you don’t even fully disrobe or get your genitals checked in an annual physical exam.
    I would prefer to be completely naked while being examined and for the entire appointment. I have nothing to hide and she should be familiar with every inch of my naked body.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.