Spread em, gURLs! Well, at least for a gynecologist!
A gURL’s very first gyno can occupy a special spot in one’s heart (kind of like your first Barbie), especially if you left said gyno’s office feeling better about your vagina than you did when you came in. That’s the sort of doctor you are supposed to have and what you should expect. And, it’s what I had in college, and surprise!… my gynecologist was a dude.
I first saw him when I was 18 and my friends, many of whom had never had a pap smear before, couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of getting naked in front of a stranger … not to mention a male stranger!
“Don’t you feel self-conscious?” they asked. The truth was, I wasn’t. My doctor made me feel really comfortable, and he wasn’t judgmental about my lifestyle choices, even though I didn’t always make the best health decisions. (Though let’s be honest, who does when they’re a college freshman?)
The first time I went in to see him, the idea of taking off my clothes and spreading my legs in front of a total stranger seemed incredibly embarrassing, but it turned out to be a lot more like a routine medical examination than I expected. A nurse weighed and measured me, and my doctor asked me questions about my medical and sexual history. Then he left the room while I undressed completely and changed into a hospital gown. When he came back, I put my feet into stirrups so that he could examine me.
Most doctors recommend that you go in for your first pelvic exam when you become sexually active. But even if you haven’t experienced sexual intercourse yet, you should definitely go to the gyno if you’re having issues with your period or vagina. You don’t need to have sex to get a yeast infection or urinary tract infection (UTI), but that’s exactly the type of stuff you should get checked out by a medical professional! A pelvic exam has three parts:
- an external check-up of the vaginal area which involves looking at the surface for abnormalities
- an internal examination of the cervix and vaginal canal using a speculum and a swab which is later tested for STIs and precancerous cells (this is known as the “Pap”)
- and a bimanual exam to ensure the health of your reproductive organs — perhaps the most awkward part since your doc will have to insert their fingers (gloved, thankfully!) in your vagina and poke around for a second.
It’s definitely not the most comfortable experience, and I can see how even the most empowered gal can feel super self-conscious. For most of my pelvic exams, there were TWO strangers looking up my gown — awkward! (Usually, if your physician is a man, there’s a female nurse who also stays in the room.)
But embarrassing or not, and here’s the big “but” — a pelvic exam and pap smear is a necessary part of being responsible for your health (and for your partner’s health). Cervical cancer, for example, is 100 percent preventable with regular pap smears. I also felt more confident about my rights as a patient once I had a few pelvic exams and began to realize that my doctor is there to serve me, not the other way around. If the speculum is too cold or uncomfortable, you can ask the doc to use lubrication, or something smaller-sized, or for your doctor to warm it up with their hands. If you’re ever in pain, you should speak up about it. (That can actually be a sign that something is wrong and needs to get checked out.) And since a pelvic exam is the type of experience that could be re-traumatizing to a survivor of sexual abuse or assault, you should talk to your doctor beforehand if you have concerns, so that they can work with you to make you feel less nervous.
Remember, if someone isn’t serving you well as a doctor — whether it’s by slut-shaming you for your decisions or by not listening to you when you say you’re uncomfortable — you have the right to switch physicians or to even file a complaint. A patient’s well-being is as much about her state of mind as it is about the stats she has on a chart!
Do you have any questions about going to the gyno? If you’ve been, what was your experience like? Shout out below!
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