Don’t Fret, Here’s What to Expect at Your First Gynecological Appointment

What is extremely gratifying about working for Her Campus is that as a community, we can bring normally taboo topics to the forefront and, through both our individual and shared experiences, comfort others in similar situations. For many college women, vaginal health tends to be one of the most hidden, but needed conversations to have in the modern age, especially when it comes to menstrual health disorders. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1 in 10 women are diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition in which the endometrial tissue grows on the outside of the uterus, causing long-term pelvic pain and/or heavy menstrual bleeding. Conditions like these can be extremely debilitating and whether or not you suffer some severe menstrual symptoms, it’s important for college-aged women to go to their local OBGYN or Planned Parenthood to monitor your period and vaginal health.

Based on depictions in movies and television, going to the gynecologist for the first time sounds equally uncomfortable, intimidating, and moderately embarrassing. I mean, having a stranger ask you to strip down fully into a medical gown so they can investigate your nether-regions is definitely not a great experience to have (or a 22nd birthday, unfortunately). However, as someone who has suffered for years with dysmenorrhea--- a.k.a. severe period cramping— finding a doctor that you trust will make the process much easier and can help you in figuring out potential options for birth control.

If you’re nervous about going to the gyno for the first time and aren’t sure what to expect, don’t fret and keep on reading so that you can feel confident and knowledgeable in making your first appointment.

  1. 1. Keeping track of Your Period Beforehand

    Hopefully, you’re already making sure to track your period cycles if you’re sexually active or deal with irregular periods. Apps such as Flo, Period Tracker, or, if you’re into astrology, Stardust will allow you to monitor your symptoms and help you get an accurate prediction as to when your next period cycle will occur. Tracking your symptoms and the duration of each period cycle will help your doctor understand how regularly or irregularly these occur through the year and can offer options to help with period symptoms and heavy flow. Not to mention, if you are sexually active, you can track the days you’ve had sex and/or are taking birth control and it will tell you your lowest and highest chances of getting pregnant throughout the month according to your tracked period cycles. Overall, this is a must to help relay important information to your doctor when they ask you general health questions regarding your period and sexual history. 

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  2. 2.  Getting Through Your Exam(s)

    So, let’s get right to the part you’re most worried about: the vaginal exam. Personally, I felt much more comfortable having a doctor that’s a woman do my exam and talk about birth control with me, but really it’s best to just find a doctor who’s received good reviews from patients online and if they specialize in anything you’re looking for, such as contraception care and coverage counseling. 

    After the nurse takes your blood pressure, height, and weight, the process is fairly simple: simply take off all clothes except for socks and change into the medical gown they provide. However, the nurse will be with you and the doctor in the room for both the vaginal and breast exams, so it’s a little less intimidating. 

    For the pelvic exam, the doctor will ask you to scoot your bottom to the lowest part of the chair (thank God for the giant piece of tissue paper they replace after every client) and place your feet on the footrests. The doctor will be checking your vaginal both externally and internally, so make sure your body is as relaxed as possible to make you more comfortable. Additionally, if you’re concerned that you may have or have had an STD, let the doctor know beforehand so they can decide if you need further testing. After looking for external concerns, the doctor will perform the bimanual exam by inserting a gloved finger into the vagina while pressing on your abdomen to check your uterus and to make sure that there are no ovarian cysts or abnormalities. This is also a non-painful process, but if you are uncomfortable or feeling any pain, you should let your doctor know.

    If you are over the age of 20 and/or are sexually active, the doctor may perform a pap smear exam to check for cervical cancer. The doctor will ask you to open your legs so they can insert a speculum that will open the vagina to have access to the cervix, which they will swab with a brush or other instrument to send to a lab to check that the cells are normal. Yes, it is a bit painful, but the process is fast and there’s hardly any discomfort after. The doctor and nurse also know that this is painful to a lot of clients, so they will most likely try to keep you involved in whatever conversation they’re having to distract you from the pain. My friends and I have agreed that it makes the exam way easier to get through. 

  3. 3. Got Questions? Ask Away!

    Here, you have all the control to ask the questions you want and need to be answered by the doctor. If you’re also looking for birth control options, you can decide if you want to start a prescription or to come back for any IUD/birth control insertions. The doctor will go over each type of birth control, their uses, and how they are given, as well as how long they last before you need a refill or an appointment for a re-insertion. 

    To be honest, I didn’t know much about birth control; I thought there were different dosages, which I was dead wrong about, but my doctor didn’t make me feel stupid for not knowing. Think of it this way: your doctor didn’t spend years of learning to not get asked these questions, and you certainly didn’t, so go ahead and ask! As always, you can schedule a quick phone call with your doctor to go over anything you may have missed or you were unsure about in the first run-through of your birth control options. If any doctor or professional makes you feel guilty for asking questions involving your health or disregard your concerns, you need to seek out a different doctor or clinic. As Planned Parenthood states on their webpage for information on the pelvic exam, “This exam is for you, so don’t be afraid to speak up.”

It’s totally normal to feel nervous, but taking the first step in monitoring your vaginal health and talking to a health expert will benefit you in the long run.