If you've never been to the gynecologist, you might be surprised to know that it's a lot more that just a peek inside. But no worries. Things that happen at your first gyno visit can be awkward and uncomfortable for some people, but they're not painful or traumatizing. If you have friends who have told you otherwise, they're exaggerating. Think of it like a trip to the dentist: not the best, but not a huge deal. Except there's no free toothbrush.
I spent years working at Planned Parenthood, as a Family Planning Assistant, Clinic Manager, and Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator. In that time, I saw more women through routine pelvic and breast exams than I could ever count. Many of them were nervous first-timers like you. Having good information about exactly what would happen helped a lot. And I can assure you, they all came out of the exam room saying it wasn't so bad.
If you've been putting your exam off because you just don't want to deal with it, trust me: Now's the time to suck it up, educate yourself, and get in there. Taking charge of your reproductive health is a super adult and responsible thing to do, and since you're kind of all about this adulting thing now (whether you want to be or not) then you know you gotta.
Here's a step-by-step rundown of everything that will happen. The more you know!
1. A Million Questions
Sexual and reproductive health is serious business, and it's important to establish a history and a baseline for what's normal for you and your body. That being said, you're probably going to get asked a lot of questions, and I don't mean about your day. You're going to be asked about your periods, your sex partners, how you feel about birth control, if you're having any symptoms, and even maybe about what sex is like for you (is it painful, etc). The questions might go deep, too, like how many people you've had sex with and if you've used protection with them. It sounds nosy and intrusive AF, but it really is important for your doctor to know what's going on down there if he or she is going to be the new guardian at your lady gate. Be honest and remember that confidentiality laws mean nothing you say leaves the room.
2. A Fashionable Paper Dress
Once question time ends, it's time to get naked. And not just pants-off naked, but Justin Bieber on vacation naked. Your fashions for the afternoon will include a crumpled white paper dress that opens in the front and a large white paper drape that's kind of like a half-skirt, half-vagina tarp. If you go to a fancy office, sometimes you get nicer paper gear, or even cloth robes, but most places go for your standard paper gown. You have to take you bra and panties off, too. At the office I worked at, you could leave your socks on, though, which a lot of women found strangely comforting. And warm.
3. Scoot Down. Nope, A Little More. Little More. Little More...
When it comes time for your exam, you'll have to put your feet in stirrups and scoot your vagina toward the doctor. And when I say scoot, I mean scoot. You'll probably be asked to scoot down so many times that you feel like you're going to fall off the table and land vagina-first in the doctor's face, but I promise, you won't. The necessary exam position is pretty much the worst part, so if you go in there accepting that you're going to have to be spread eagle, sunny side up, on the very edge of a table, with your goods in a stranger's face, the rest will be a piece of cake. Also, it helps to know that your doctor chose this profession, meaning your genital inspection isn't a weird surprise or a total bummer. It's a calling. Kind of like being a nun or something.
4. The Speculum & External Exam
The speculum is that weird duck lips looking thing that the doctor uses to hold your business open. It's usually cold, even if your doctor warms it up. Sometimes it has lube on it. Sometimes it's metal and sometimes it's plastic. Once inserted, it will gently part your vagina and vagina open and keep them in position for the exams. The first exam is the external exam. This is just where the doctor looks and feels around for any lumps, bumps, or unusual symptoms. This includes all the external genitalia, as well as your vaginal walls and cervix.
5. The Cervical Exam & STD Checks
Your cervix is like the wall between your vagina and your uterus. It kind of looks like a mini donut and sort of feels like the very tip of your nose. This is where abnormal cells chose to grow when you have cervical cancer, so your doctor will take a sample of your cervical cells in a test called a Pap Test or Pap Smear. It's just a quick sweep and most women don't feel anything. At most, you'll feel some pressure. It's also common to have a little spotting afterwards. Next up is the STD check, which in most cases is a large cotton swab of vaginal and cervical fluid and cells.
6. The Bimanual Exam
This part of the exam is often a surprise. In order to check that your hidden reproductive organs, like your ovaries and Fallopian tubes, are healthy and normal, your doctor has to probe them. That means pressing on your abdomen with one hand while the other hand may or may not have fingers in your vagina. Sometimes your doctor will also check the area surrounding your rectum with his or her fingers. This is all a normal part of a thorough exam.
7. The Breast Exam
Finally, your doctor will check your breast, armpits, sides, and chest for any suspicious lumps that could indicate breast cancer or breast fibroids. Not all doctors wear gloves during the breast exam, but no worries. Just touching your skin with clean hands isn't a disease risk. The breast exam will be much like the ones you perform in the shower or in bed every month, but with a little more pressing and probably a tad more pressure.
8. Lab Work
After your exam, your doctor will send your pap test and any other tests you got off to the lab. If you had any kind of discharge or odor, your doctor may take a few minutes to look at samples under a microscope to determine if you have a bacterial or yeast infection. You might also have to give blood or, if your office doesn't do that, you might have to go to a lab to get your blood drawn. All of this is normal and not necessarily a sign that something is wrong. It can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to get lab results back.
After you're all done and dressed, someone will come to talk to you about medications. If you want you start or continue birth control, you'll have an opportunity to ask for it and get information on all your options. If you had any type of infection, you could also receive medication or a prescription, usually for an antibiotic or anti-yeast treatment, If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. Even if the doctor has to move on to another patient, the nursing and education staff can take expert care of you.
And that's all she wrote. Uncomfortable and awkward? Maybe. Terrible? Nah. Over in a flash? Totally. You got this.