It sounds like their policies are kind of wishy-washy. They change regularly but half the airports don't get the memo. My experience was fine, but I don't feel like that's any garuntee that yours will be. But just in case it helps, here was how it happened to me:
I recently went through the Nashville airport (BNA) at the end of December. My biggest beef with the scanner and pat down (besides the fact that it's done at all) was that they didn't do anything to let you know what the scanner was. The fact that I'd done some before hand (because I was so nervous about being scanned) was the only way I recognized it. So you're not giving informed consent to be scanned.
The lady directing people to the scanner was friendly. She tried to convince me the scanner was less invasive than the pat down (for most people it probably would be, but I'm weird like that), but she was sympathetic and said she'd "get someone nice" to do it. I was briefly separated from my DP because he went through the scanner without knowing what it was, while I hung back waiting for the patting-down agent to show up. When she arrived, I went through the normal metal detector and into an area sectioned off for this purpose. She found my DP so he could be a witness. She got fresh gloves. She asked if I'd had the pat down before, and I said no, so she explained the procedure to me (moving hand up the thigh until it "meets resistance" etc, you've heard it), so there were no surprises. She touched my butt with the back of her hand, and she checked between and under my breasts with the side of her hands. She did reach in my collar and waistband. She didn't touch my genitals, but she came close enough that it could have easily happened by accident, I think. (It'd probably be more likely to happen on a man?) I had to wait while she tested her gloves for something or other. This all occurred at the same time that your shoes, laptop, bag is going through the x-ray, so I'm glad my DP was there to re-pack our bags.
I was wearing slacks and a slightly form-fitting sweater. It seemed like everyone had to go through the scanner (or pat down) whereas I've heard they just pick random people sometimes. However, it wasn't especially crowded at that time.
Originally Posted by mommariffic
I'm not sure I understand why these pat downs are considered sexual -- is going to the doctor for a check up (the gyno, a physical, etc) sexual? No it's someone doing their job...
It may or may not be because I was sexually abused as a child, but I do in fact find a medical professional poking around my private bits to be very, very distressing. And it used to be worse. Hell, it was years before I could comfortably change clothes in front of stuffed animals! (We're talking long after an age where I knew stuffed animals weren't secretly alive, but I did keep getting flash backs of Toy Story anyway.)
Still, there are some key differences between going to the doctor and going through "enhanced" airport security.
1. Technically, you don't have to do either one. Technically, you never have to do anything in your life except occasionally sleep and eventually die. But being able to say "But it's your choice!" doesn't make it okay for you to put another person in a situation where they have to choose between two bad things. The TSA is pretty much blackmailing people a la "Let us take a naked picture or you and/or feel you up, or else you don't get to see your family this Christmas." With the doctor analogy, you're choosing between an exam or the risk of an undiscovered health problem, but that health problem is a fact of life rather than something another human is deliberately inflicting on you.
2. Doctors try to give you as much privacy as possible. They leave the room while you're changing. They give you a gown which they move aside just long enough to do what you need to do, and then you can cover up again. They don't make you stand still for several seconds while they look you up and down naked.
3. You can choose a same-sex doctor if that makes you more comfortable. You will get a pat-down from a TSA agent of the same sex, but you don't get to pick who looks at the scanner picture.
4. If a doctor is creeping you out in any way, you can leave and get a new doctor.
I think I've heard that 1 in 5 women are sexually abused at some point, plus there's people who for cultural or religious reasons were brought up with ideas resulted in them being very modest. So just because you don't mind the pat down and image scanner doesn't mean it's unreasonable that someone else does.