Going to the gynecologist for the first or 10th time can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be a bad experience. To help cast away your fears, here are answers to 20 questions you might be too embarrassed to ask before your visit.
Questions About My Visit
1. I’m nervous about having to strip down for my visit. What can I do to feel more at ease?
This is a normal concern. Exposing yourself in front of other people, including doctors, can be uncomfortable. Remind yourself that gynecologists see thousands of bodies of all shapes and sizes and this is just another day for them. In turn, they are also mindful that this isn’t the most comfortable part of the visit for you.
2. I’m on my period. Can I see my OB-GYN or should I wait?
If you’re embarrassed about the bleeding, don’t be! We deal with vaginal bleeding pretty much every day; however, sometimes menstrual blood can affect the results of a pap smear, so ideally you should undergo a pap smear while not on your cycle.
3. Should I shave or wax before my visit?
Unless you are worried that your pubic hair might be concealing a concerning spot, leave it however you feel most comfortable.
4. What is my vulva supposed to look like? I feel like it must be abnormal.
Vulvas are like people, and they come in all different shapes and sizes and with different characteristics. Like many things regarding the female body, there are unrealistic beauty standards that tend to make women feel self conscious or different. However, if you notice abnormal growths or changes, please let your gynecologist know so they can perform an examination.
5. I don’t like the smell of vagina. Is there anything I can do fix that?
This is somewhat complicated. A vagina will never be completely odorless. Like our digestive tract and other parts of the body, the vagina is a complex ecosystem with various different bacteria, as well as different secretions. Things like diet, activity, weather and undergarment material can have an effect.
It’s important to actually understand what is normal and what is not normal and you can always ask your gynecologist if you have concerns.
6. I have a lot of vaginal discharge. Is daily discharge normal?
Discharge is normal, and actually increases during pregnancy due to changes in hormone levels, but changes in consistency, quantity or odor may indicate an underlying problem like an infection and should be evaluated if you are concerned.
7. I feel some bumps down there. What is normal and what should concern me?
The vulva/vagina is rarely perfectly smooth and there are plenty of reasons you might feel small bumps such as hair follicles, Fordyce spots (normal tiny bumps on the vagina) and ingrown hairs. However you should alert your gynecologist to anything that is newly discovered, especially if it’s painful or enlarging as that could be a sign of something more serious.
8. I sometimes experience itching down there. Should I be alarmed?
Itching can be caused by various reasons from yeast infections to sensitivities to detergents and/or bath soaps, or inflammatory skin conditions. It’s rarely a sign of something very serious. If it’s just occasional, make sure to wear breathable cotton undergarments and avoid scented soaps “down there.’’ And if it becomes bothersome, alert your doctor.
Questions About Sex
9. Why is sex painful for me?
Sex could be painful for any number of reasons: muscle spasms, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, vaginal atrophy, lack of adequate lubrication, or even more complicated psychological reasons. It is something that definitely warrants and exam and a discussion with your doctor.
10. Is it safe to have sex during my period?
If your cycles are regular and predictable (occurring every 28-35 days) then there shouldn’t be a risk of pregnancy during this time.
11. Is there less risk of getting pregnant if I have sex a few days after my period?
Like the above question, if your cycles are regular (every 28-35 days) you should not be ovulating at this time or in the window at which sperm could “hang around” (5-7 days) to wait for ovulation to occur.
12. Can I have sex during pregnancy?
Yes, but there are certain pregnancy conditions that prohibit sexual intercourse, including placenta previa (the placenta lies low in the uterus and partially covers the cervix), preterm labor or cervical insufficiency (premature shortening/thinning or dilation of the cervix early in pregnancy).
13. What should I do if I had unprotected sex with someone and haven’t gotten tested yet?
Tell your ob-gyn and get tested. If there is concern for exposure to STDs or HIV, there are preventative treatments that can be started before the results.
14. I don’t seem to ever be in the mood anymore. Why is my libido low?
There could be any number of reasons. Usually low libido isn’t just from one cause. Certain medications, medical conditions, stress, relationship dynamics, sexual function, life stressors and many other things can affect libido.
Questions on Sexual Health
15. How often should a woman get a pelvic exam and Pap test?
Starting at the age of 21, a woman should undergo routine annual pelvic exam. If there are any problems or concerns, however, a pelvic exam might be needed at an earlier age. Pap smears are performed every three years (if the prior result was normal). A Pap smear with testing for HPV can be performed every five years. Although the Pap smear test is only every three to five years, your gynecologist is still performing a visual inspection of your cervix at your yearly visit.
16. I’ve been experiencing premenstrual syndrome. How can I tell the difference between what is normal and what is more serious?
If your premenstrual syndrome is interfering with personal relationships or your ability to perform functions at your job or school, it should definitely be evaluated. There is a syndrome known as pre-menstrual distress disorder that can cause substantial mood changes, and this can be screened for at your physician’s office.
17. How many weeks need to pass before I will be able to know if I’m pregnant?
Some tests offer results as soon as six days before your first missed period.
18. How often should I be tested for sexually transmitted infections? Which ones?
I personally recommend all sexually active women be screened at least annually for HIV, syphilis (because Louisiana has a high rate of infection), as well as trichomonas, gonorrhea and chlamydia. And if you have a new partner I recommend getting tested sooner, especially if you are not using condoms.
19. What’s the best way to protect myself from sexually transmitted infections?
Barrier methods (male or female condoms, dental dams) and regular STD testing with both yourself and your partners.
20. How can I talk to my partner about STIs?
This can be hard for people to talk about due to stigma, but it shouldn’t be! This should be part of the conversation with every sexual partner; you shouldn’t feel the need to disclose a history of treatable STI’s that have been treated (e.g. gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas), but chronic STI’s that may infect your partner need to be disclosed (e.g. herpes, HIV). Also, you should be talking about when you were both last checked. Most infections are from asymptomatic partners and are preventable.