Editor’s note: This article may not be suitable for some readers due to the nature of this subject.


Dear AiG,

I have a question that I'd like to get your point of view on... and quite honestly, I feel uncomfortable even asking.

But what is your take on Christians visiting doctors of the opposite gender? Since doctors often have to perform invasive exams, it seems like this is a conflict of interest for a Christian, especially for a married [Christian] couple.

Since only the husband or wife should see each other, isn't it a bit of a conflict if, say, the wife of the husband goes to a male doctor?

Also, from the doctor's point of view, if the doctor is a Christian, shouldn't he or she have reservations with performing these types of exams to someone of a different gender?

I'm not asking this facetiously. I have been wondering this for a while now and it's an issue I think about all the time when selecting family doctors.

– J.L.


Dear J.L.,

We’re glad you desire to make the Word of God the authority in every area of your life. Let’s explore the Scriptures on this issue as we share some insight from our own professional experiences.

Our backgrounds as Christians and practicing physicians are known to those who frequent this website. We met and married during medical school and completed our residencies in different fields, Internal Medicine and Obstetrics-Gynecology. We both practiced medicine in a small Tennessee town for many years before entering full-time ministry. In addition to our obvious training and experience as physicians, one of us—Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell—worked as a nursing assistant on a surgical urology unit for some time prior to medical school. You may well imagine we bring a broad range of experience to bear upon your questions, and each of us has cared for many patients of both genders. And while we obviously cannot claim that every physician—or every member of any other profession for that matter—is a moral person with good character and professional standards, we do understand those standards and the way they apply to real-life situations in ordinary practice.

You did not include any Scripture in your question. Therefore, we do not know if particular passages have brought these concerns to mind or if you simply “have a feeling” or “have heard” something should be wrong with such mixed gender interactions.

Consider first the purpose of clothing. Adam and Eve were originally sinless, naked, and unashamed. Neither they nor God saw any need for them to have clothes. Once they sinned, they felt guilt and shame and sought clothes for themselves, having become aware of their nakedness. God provided them with coats of skin, which seems to imply the first animal sacrifice, indeed the first death. Adam and Eve got a glimpse of the gospel message that day, understanding that the price of sin involves death and that only God could cover their sin. Thus, clothes originated because of man’s sin.

Nakedness in the Bible is therefore often associated with vulnerability and shame, though there is nothing inherently sinful in being naked. Nevertheless, the importance of not provoking others to lust and even common decency demand we avoid public nakedness. The law required priests to wear undergarments (Exodus 28:42). Peter, when he swam to shore to see Jesus in John 21:7, made sure he was decently attired. The principles of modesty in public appear in both the Old and New Testaments. The doctor’s examination room, however, is not public.

Numerous injunctions in Leviticus prohibit certain marital choices and illicit sexual relationships with warning not to “uncover the nakedness” of such-and-such a person. Uncovering one’s nakedness was a euphemism for a sexual relationship.1 These passages are concerned with the appropriate selection of a marital partner and, therefore, sexual partner. These verses do not focus on the viewing of a person’s body or any activity associated with a visit to the doctor.

The book of Leviticus also provides an example that addresses your very question. Chapter 13 focuses on various skin diseases. When an Israelite suspected that he had contracted some sort of skin disease, he was to show himself to a priest, who would examine the person’s skin. For example, Leviticus 13:38–39 states, “If a man or a woman has bright spots on the skin of the body, specifically white bright spots, then the priest shall look …” So God commanded the (male) priests to examine the skin of a woman in certain medical situations, and the command makes no exception for private areas of the patient.

The account of Noah and Ham may have led some people to think that it was inherently sinful to see someone’s nakedness. Genesis 9:21–25 reveals that Noah became drunk and was uncovered in his tent. His son Ham “saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” While some have thought Ham’s viewing of Noah was sinful, or that Ham did something perverse, the Bible seems to indicate that it was Ham’s mocking response of telling his brothers that was wrong. Rather than respecting his father, Ham apparently took some delight in Noah’s lack of dignity at that moment, and he shared his disrespect with his brothers.

Jesus warned that “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The key component here is lust. A physician with reasonable professional standards is not enticed to lust by seeing and touching naked patients. Professional standards do not even permit such a way of thinking. A patient trusts a doctor with confidences, dignity, and life itself. Professional standards prompt a physician to provide the best possible medical judgment while preserving the patient’s privacy with discretion. Those same standards keep the physician from ever considering the patient as a sexual object. (Incidentally, the same standards apply to all medical professionals.)

As physicians, we often opted to invite an assistant such as a nurse to attend examinations in which a patient might feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. In this litigious-minded society, avoidance of a potential misunderstanding or false accusation was obviously one consideration but generally only a secondary one. The presence of an assistant often makes a patient feel more at ease during examinations of a potentially embarrassing nature. But the physician, to borrow a phrase from a television program, “has seen more bodies than you’ll ever have.” The physician is focusing on physical examination, not seduction. The years of medical training certainly reinforce the proper attitude toward a patient, an attitude balancing empathy with professional distance. As medical professionals in training spend time with patients—from the first cadaver to living people—they practice the proper attitude of respect that is drummed into them from their very first day. And they learn how to put patients at ease—not to harbor evil thoughts, but to help their patients relax and trust them.

Furthermore, when Paul warns, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1), the context concerns male-female relationships with the potential for marriage and goes on to describe the proper relationship between husbands and wives. Nothing in the context of the passage applies to the doctor-patient relationship. The passage goes on to consider self-control, again in the context of ordinary relationships. But when it comes to the professional character, attitude, and conduct of a physician while examining and treating patients, lust requiring self-control should never even enter into the mind.

Over the years, each of us cared for patients of the opposite gender quite often. In every case, our concern was to put the patient at ease and to provide them with excellent care. Neither of us ever had the first concern that the other was somehow compromising the purity or sanctity of our marriage by seeing and touching patients of the opposite sex.

Nevertheless, we know that doctors, like people in every profession, are sinful human beings. Just as you must evaluate the character of the people you deal with in other areas where trust is required—your banker, lawyer, builder, pastor, or dentist, for instance—so you must be aware of the trustworthiness of your physician. If you ever suspect that your choice is unworthy of your trust, you should obviously make a change. That does not mean there is a moral issue with the medical profession as a whole, just as the bad character of individual members of other professions should not indict the entire group. The professional training of a physician, the safeguards we mention above, and your own good sense all contribute not only to avoiding misunderstandings but also to protecting patients from individuals with bad character.

As you choose your family’s doctors, the gender of your doctor really should not enter into the equation except as a matter of personal preference. If anyone in the family has a particular gender preference for simple comfort’s sake, then obviously that preference should be respected. But the decision has no moral implications. In short, if you find a physician with whom you can trust your life and the lives of your family members, you should certainly be able to trust that physician with dignity, modesty, and purity. Some religious and cultural traditions do prohibit male physicians from touching female patients. But that prohibition, we believe, does not come from the Bible.

Dr. Tommy Mitchell and Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell

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Footnotes

  1. See Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, “Leviticus 18,” http://barnes.biblecommenter.com/leviticus/18.htm. Back