Opinion: Preventative measures
Health benefits outweigh initial awkwardness
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 13:12
For the woman who has never visited an OB-GYN, the idea of gynecological check-ups can be terrifying. Who can blame her? There is hardly an appeal to lying naked on a table with your legs spread wide and a complete stranger in between them. And having to put your feet in stirrups anywhere except on a horse is just awkward.
But the fact is, gynecological check-ups are just as important, if not more, than annual teeth cleanings, eye exams or mole-checks. OB-GYN appointments serve to examine the sexual organs for complications like sexually transmitted infections, cysts, tumors, HPV and cervical cancer cells. Basically, these appointments can save lives.
When I found out that the majority of my friends, most of whom are well over the age of 18 and even sexually active, have never been to the OB-GYN, I freaked. These are the women I care about the most and if any of them were to fall ill to a disease that could’ve been detected early, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.
Then I realized that if this lack of vaginal attention is so prevalent among just my circle of friends, it’s probably greater outside of it.
So, without further adieu: what to expect during a pelvic exam and why it isn’t as bad as everyone thinks.
The first step is finding a gynecologist. Most of the time, the gynecologist will depend on your insurance plan, but if possible, take suggestions from friends or family members. If you have limited or no insurance, the on-campus Women’s Clinic, Planned Parenthood or any other community health clinics are all great options.
The gynecologist will give you specific instructions on vaginal care for the 48 hours leading up to the appointment. It’s important to follow these instructions because they can affect how accurate test results are. Also, be careful not to schedule the appointment during your period; you’ll likely be sent home.
I suggest bringing a friend or family member to help ease the nerves. My mom came with me for my first check-up and stayed in the examination room with me the whole time. She held my hand and made jokes and everything was ok. Having moral support for such a “big-girl” event is invaluable, so if you can find someone you trust, I highly recommend it. A nurse can also be requested to stay present during the exam.
After removing all clothes, you will be instructed to sit on the end of the examination table, lie back and rest your heels in the stirrups. The cool thing is that if you want to watch this portion of the exam, you can ask for a mirror. I’ve never done it, but it’s totally on my bucket list. And if you feel self conscious about having a face so close to your lady bits, just remember: gynecologists see vaginas everyday. They aren’t judging you.
The gynecologist will first inspect the outer parts of the vagina for irritations, cysts, genital warts or other conditions. Then, he or she will insert a lubricated speculum into the vagina for the Pap test. A speculum is a tool that holds the walls of the vagina apart so the doctor is able to swab for cervical cells and discharge, which will later be tested for cancer and sexually transmitted infections. Discomfort is normal during this part of the exam, but it shouldn’t be painful. If it is, tell the doctor immediately so that adjustments can be made. Speculums come in different sizes and it could just be that the speculum in use is not your size.
Next, the doctor will examine the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries by inserting one or two gloved fingers into the vagina while pressing on the lower abdomen. This part of the exam can determine the state of your fertility and what birth control choices will best suit you. It is also meant to check for infections, enlarged ovaries, cysts and tumors.
Finally, the gynecologist may perform a recto-vaginal exam to check for tumors behind the uterus. He or she may also perform a breast exam.
Once dressed, you can talk to the doctor about various protective immunizations, birth control options if needed, when to expect the Pap test results and when to have your next check up. This is a great time to ask any sexual health questions you may have. Gynecologists are here to help. No question is a stupid question.
The good news is, the entire exam will only take about three to four minutes — roughly the time it took to read this column.
Gynecological check ups are important and every woman, sexually active or not, should have one. A check-up is a responsible, preventative measure and you owe it to yourself to keep your lady-bits happy and healthy.