There are few things that may be more intimidating than your first visit to the gyno. If you’re anything like the rest of the vulva-owners of the world, this anatomical area has likely been a source of insecurity since you realized you had it.
Does it look normal?
Does is smell normal?
Is what’s coming out of it normal?
The thought of a medical professional (but still a stranger) asking you about it, let alone examining it in great detail, is enough to make anyone want to crawl under the covers and never emerge. But what it didn’t have to be that scary? With a little extra knowledge, you can walk into this first intimate appointment feeling more comfortable and confident. Here are five things you should know that can help you do just that.
1. Your OB-GYN’s office is a safe space.
As gynecologists, we build trust by providing you a confidential and judgement-free zone. It’s our job. But to do our job taking care of you and your most intimate concerns, we have to know some very personal details.
Things that we may ask you include:
Do you use tobacco products, drink alcohol or use any other non-prescription drugs?
Do you feel safe at home and who you live with?
Have you ever been sexually active? This could include touching, oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex.
Have you had male partners, female partners or both?
And don’t worry because we’ve heard every single kind of answer before. We only want to know these answers to be able to keep you healthy and safe.
We’re also legally-bound secret keepers, so unless we have your permission, everything we discuss stays in the exam room.
The only two questions that we will ask that we can’t keep confidential is
Has anyone in the past or currently hurt you in anyway?
Do you ever feel like wanting to hurt yourself?
If either of these answers is “yes,” we have to tell someone.
2. You might be able to keep your clothes on for the entire visit.
There’s a reason why we want to start seeing patients between the ages of 13 and 15 — we want to get to know you! And we want you to feel comfortable once you do need an exam.
Most visits are just a lot of questions and talking about you, your periods and any concerns you have.
If you meet the following characteristics, you may not need an exam:
You are under the age of 21.
You have no unusual symptoms.
If you’ve been sexually active in the past, we’ll recommend testing for sexually transmitted infections, but most of the time we can do this by screening urine and blood.
If you’re 21 or over, we’ll discuss the recommendation to start pap smear screenings or screenings for cervical cancer, which require a pelvic exam. But don’t worry if you do need an exam, because that brings us to my next point…
3. You are always in control
What happens or doesn’t happen in the exam room is always your choice.
We can make recommendations about whether or not we think you need an exam, but it’s always your decision if we do an exam or not. I tell people all the time — this is not my exam room. This is your exam room. You are in complete control.
That means if you want to continue, I will do my best to walk you gently through each step, But at any point, it is OK to pause, stop or completely abandon ship. It is your exam room and your choice.
4. You don’t have to groom for us.
These are all things you do not have to do to prepare for a gynecologist appointment:
Paint your toenails.
Shower or scrub immediately before.
Wear anything special.
Shave your legs or pits.
Shave your pubic hair. (In fact, it’s healthier to not!)
Listen to me carefully, We. Do. Not. Care. Period.
Please come as you are.
I once had a patient who told me that she was embarrassed because she “didn’t feel pretty down there.” This broke my heart. If you take away one thing today, it should be that vulvas come in all shape, sizes and skin tones. And this is normal. There is no beauty contest in the exam room.
5. We are on your side.
When you come to see me in the office, I become a member of your team. A teammate that is there to always listen to you, advise you and advocate for you.
While some of this stuff initially feels awkward for you, it is very normal for me — and my goal is to make you feel the same. You may not like every single piece of advice that I have to share, but always know that I’m giving it because I want you to be your best healthy self. My sole job is to keep you happy, healthy and safe.
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