Keeping up with a gynecologist visit is something every woman has to do. Considering the underlying concerns around it, however, some women are understandably apprehensive to book an appointment.
Ladies, I totally understand where your concerns are coming from. Many of you feel self-conscious about what to expect or what will happen, and let me tell you that your feelings are valid. Although shyness is perfectly normal, don’t let this hold you back from taking this very vital step to learning about and safeguarding your reproductive health.
Ob-gyn appointments should be a pleasant experience because you deserve the best for your reproductive and fertility health. You’ll probably obsess about everything that we will ask you or what procedures we may need to perform but trust me, these are the things you should worry about the least.
To ease your anxiety, let me list the most common things that women often tend to overthink when planning their gynecologist visit and what’s my honest take on it. At the end of the day, it is in our best interest to make you comfortable so that you can be most honest about your intimate and often most private health concerns.
1. Your Doctor is Not Judging Your Sex Adventures – Your ob-gyn will ask a lot of questions to get to the root of your health concerns and to determine the best screening and testing for you but it is not because they are prying into your bedroom stories for entertainment value. Depending on your age and history, we ask about your sex life — specifically, your number of sexual partners, the gender of partners, and types of sexual relations that you may have engaged in to better streamline the care that you need. For example, did you know that a rectal Pap smear is required, in addition to the usual cervical Pap smear, if you engage in certain activities? You see, the Pap smear which screens for precancerous and cancerous cells of the cervix also screens for similar cells in the anus and rectum where human papilloma virus (HPV) can infect these cells.
But why? Well, aside from protecting you and your sexual partners from infections, we are trying to protect you from preventable cancers like cervical cancer, vulvar cancer and anal cancer. In addition, we are screening for risks of pregnancy and infections which can negatively impact your future fertility or negatively impact a pregnancy. Knowing which screening tests like those for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) is a crucial step in your gynecological or fertility visit. It’s also an opportunity to discuss your sexual health including satisfaction with your sexual activities, safe sexual practices and even contraception.
I imagine many of you are resistant to give this information as it can, at first glance, sound invasive or nosy but our only vested interest here is to make sure we know the root cause of your concerns so we can optimally protect your health.
2. Don’t Be Shy About Your Body – A visit with your Ob-GYN should be a celebration of your humanity and womanhood! I see many patients worry about being judged over their choice for grooming but let me be clear, we, gynecologists, do not judge! How you choose to groom, or not, is up to you. So long as your grooming doesn’t lead to increased risks for infections or other irritations in the area, we will not be assessing or mentioning it. Yes, extra fuzz won’t interfere with our ability to examine you. To be clear, getting a pelvic examination is not dependent on grooming. For example, the pap smear is in no way impacted. Trust me, your doctor genuinely does not care. We are here to get the work done.
3. Don’t Skip Appointments Because of Your Period – I know many women are dreading about their Ob-Gyn schedule because of periods. Let me tell it straight: Menstruation does not limit our ability to do most of your examination. So, if you miscalculated your period and it started on the day for your scheduled annual examination, we usually do not need to have you reschedule. If you’re not sure whether your period will be an issue, call your Ob-Gyn’s office to verify when the period starts. For example, although in the ‘old days’ a Pap smear couldn’t be completed if you were on your period, nowadays the majority of clinics use an updated method that can separate menstrual blood from cervical cells. So get to know the limitations and capabilities of your Ob-Gyn office by calling ahead of the visit.
4. If You’re Feeling Something On Your Body, Speak Up – Communication with your Ob-Gyn is the key during EVERY visit! Look, we get that talking about your sex life or other irritations in such an intimate area of your body can be awkward. But you must definitely bring up any issues that are causing you discomfort, rather than enduring it — not talking about it may escalate to further issues if you just keep it yourself. Don’t be afraid to talk about issues like pain during sex or any itch or unexpected odors or discharge that you might be getting. According to Barb DePree, M.D., director of women’s midlife services at Hollan Hospital in Holland, MI, it is important to share these kinds of details with your doctor so an accurate treatment or precaution can be planned out. If you are experiencing weird itching in your private parts, it isn’t always likely to be a yeast infection, she explained.
Other life threatening factors like Precancers or cancer can have initial symptoms like itching or abnormal bleeding. Another hidden issue some women hesitate to share with their doctor is about leaking of urine or feces. Many women of all ages experience urine issues. It is a normal part of aging, but you don’t have to sit with it for too long. There are lots of treatment options waiting for you and all you have to do is speak up about it.
5. Menopause Should Not Disrupt Your Sex Life, Work Life or overall Quality of Life – Many women often wonder what happened to their sex lives once they reach menopause. Most of them feel a declining desire for sex but still crave for intimacy and trust. While it is true that menopause symptoms — e.g. vaginal dryness and low sex drive — can get in the way of sexual relations, it should not stop you from getting physical. Talking with your doctor can help reverse most, if not all, of these symptoms.
On the same note, low sex drive can be tied to lifestyle habits and medication, too. Tell your Ob-Gyn if sex isn’t enjoyable. He or she can provide special options to help you maintain the intimacy and pleasure in your relationship.
6. All Birth Control Methods Can Have Side Effects – Though there are different kinds of birth control and some women are more sensitive to certain hormone combinations than others, there is usually an option that can work best for your body. If you experience ongoing nausea, mood swings, decreased libido, headaches, migraines, or intermenstrual spotting, as side effects of your birth control, you need to let your Doctor know. While some persons can have mild symptoms right when they start a new birth control, ongoing symptoms are a sign that your body may not be adjusting to the new treatment.
According to Dr. Pamela Berens, MD, a professor in obstetrics and gynecology of University of Texas-Houston Medical School, you need at least three months to get used to being on your prescribed birth control because all birth controls have side effects. If the symptoms persist after more than a three-month period, you don’t have to wait for your annual visit to discuss the problem with your Ob-Gyn. However, I would add here that if your symptoms are such that they affect your daily functioning or quality of life, you should contact your clinic much sooner than three months!
Making a call or an appointment while the symptoms are happening will help to alleviate your worries and disrupt any further complications. Believe me when I say that your Ob-Gyn knows that not every birth control is going to be right for every person but they need your help. Keeping them in the loop helps them find the contraceptive method that is most favorable for your body, a lot sooner! The more information you give them about your symptoms, your medical and family history, and what you’re actually looking for in birth control, the better they will be able to plan out options tailored to your concerns and health.
Going to your gynecologist appointment is a way to stay on top of your sexual and reproductive health. Once you get into the appointment, set aside all your inhibitions, and lay bare your deepest concerns. Gynecologists wear lots of skilled hats, but telepathy isn’t one of them. You have to tell us your questions, even the weirdest ones, so we can openly discuss possible treatments and options for you. The more information you share with us, the better we can diagnose and treat your concerns.
We are here to help you feel better and this enables you to enjoy your personhood and womanhood to the fullest. Let me know once you are ready to open up about your concerns. Talk soon!