For many people, seeing a gynecologist for the first time can be a nerve-wracking and scary experience. However, it doesn’t have to be—the more informed you are, the less scary it is. Knowing what to expect means you can advocate for yourself and be an informed patient. So why see a gynecologist, you may ask? Perhaps you are thinking about having sex and want to discuss contraception or you want to talk about pain during sex. Maybe you have an infection and want to get it checked out or your periods are irregular and you want more information. As you can see, there are so many reasons people go to the gynecologist! You don’t have to be sexually active to see a gynecologist, either. The most recent recommendation is that people see a gynecologist for a first pap smear at 21 and every three years after. Here are some things to know ahead of time:
- Schedule an exam during a time when you are not menstruating
- You can request a provider of the same gender if you want
- It can be helpful to write questions down ahead of time in case you forget anything
- When you get there you will fill out some forms answering questions about if you are sexually active, the date of your last period, and what brings you to the appointment
- Wear comfortable clothing because you may have to remove them (including underwear) to change into a gown
Once you get there, you will have a conversation with a healthcare provider about why are you there and about your sexual history. Being honest is important and this information helps inform the provider about what kind of care you need. Their job is to provide care, not judge you. While people don’t always talk openly about gynecological health, your doctor has heard every question out there and seen many patients for gynecological exams. Nothing is too embarrassing or uncomfortable. Remember, it’s their job and they see patients with similar concerns all the time! If you have experienced trauma, this can be a time to tell the doctor that you might be nervous and discuss strategies for getting through an exam (here is an article with some tips to help you through the appointment).
Depending on why you are there, here are some things that could occur:
- The provider performing a breast exam
- The provider having you lie you down and put your feet in stirrups to examine the external genital area
- The provider using a speculum, an instrument that allows for the provider to view inside the vagina and see the cervix, to perform the internal exam
- The provider taking a swab of your cervix
- The provider inserting a gloved finger into the vagina while feeling your abdomen—this is to examine your internal organs that they can’t examine with the speculum (the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes)
Throughout all this, nothing should hurt. You may feel some discomfort and pressure, and if you are feeling pain you should tell your provider. While it can be difficult, the more relaxed you are the more comfortable the exam will be. Taking deep breaths can help you try to relax. While it sounds like a lot, this part of the exam only takes a few minutes and will be over before you know it. Sometimes people like to know what is going on, have a conversation with the provider, or not talk at all. It’s up to you! It’s also totally fine to ask the provider to talk you through what they are doing.
Also, remember to speak up–you have the right to ask for explanations or stop any part of the exam at any point. It’s your body and you have the right to advocate for yourself! If you have questions, you can email Student Wellness at LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu to set up a sexual health appointment with our trained health educators. We are here to help make you feel as informed as possible when you seen a gynecologist for the first time!