All the “firsts” in life can be scary. The first day of school, the first kiss, the first math exam. It also does not matter how old you are. A first is a first, and the uncertainty and nerves associated with it are, more or less, always the same. One big first in a woman’s life is visiting a gynecologist for the first time. There are a lot of questions, a lot of worries, and so much anxiety!
Well, if you are thinking of, or about to have your first gynecologist visit, read this little guide we put together for you.
Going to the gynecologist for the first time
As the date comes closer, the more the stress gets to you. First, relax. Going to the gynecologist sounds scary but is, in fact, great. You can ask all you want, get important answers and advice, and clear up any doubts you might have.
When and why?
Sometimes after a girl’s first period, it is time to visit a gynecologist. It does not have to be straight away, but it happens frequently between 13 and 17 years. Depending on your country, you can also be called by your GP or local clinic and offered to book a gynecologist visit. You are always free to decline. However, any girl or woman who has become sexually active should visit a gynecologist, regardless of age.
In any case, you are always allowed to be seen by a gynecologist, whether if you just have some questions or doubts, or if you want to make sure everything is okay, and especially if you worry something is wrong. If you are a minor and not allowed you to book an appointment by yourself, ask your legal guardian to do so for you.
A first visit to the gynecologist can be quite nerve-wracking. Most people always feel a bit nervous before going to the doctor – any kind of doctor, really – and gynecologists know they are one of the “scariest” doctors for a first visit. So, yes, it is totally normal to be nervous when you visit a gynecologist for the first time, and you can even tell your gynecologist how you feel. Not only they will understand but will also try to help you relax.
You can choose if you want to bring someone into the appointment with you for support or to feel less nervous, and you are also allowed to be alone in the room with your doctor. Some gynecologists might ask to see you alone for the whole appointment or for part of it.
It is not uncommon to feel anxious about been seen by a male gynecologist as a young girl. This is totally understandable even for male doctors! Most hospitals, clinics and private practices will allow you to request a female gynecologist if you want, and frequently you’ll be asked before booking your consult. It is okay to have a preference in this, but just know that male gynecologists are as competent, understanding, and professional as female gynecologists.
Gynecologists, like many other doctors, ask a lot of questions. However, these questions might be a little – or a lot – personal. Although “invasive”, these questions should be answered truthfully, so your gynecologist can assess all that is going on with you and your body. The questions you’ll be asked will most probably be something like:
- When did you have your first period?
- Do you have regular or irregular periods?
- Do you experience bad period cramps?
- Do you have any uncomfortable itching or rash, or vaginal discharge?
- Do you notice any bad smells at any point in your cycle?
- Do you experience heavy bleeding during your period?
- Are you sexually active?
- If you are, do you use condoms?
- Do you use any form of birth control?
- What kind of menstrual products are you using?
They might ask you about acne, weight gain and weight loss, alcohol, drugs, smoking, grooming habits, sexuality, mental health, sleep troubles, anxiety, or others. These topics might not seem related to your period at all, but they can be. And your answers are going to help your gynecologist paint a clearer picture of your overall health.
If there is something bothering you that your gynecologist didn’t ask, this is the time to speak up! Remember most of the things you tell your doctor are confidential, and if you are worried about it, just discuss it with them before answering any questions.
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On your first gynecologist visit, there may or may not be the need to perform some exams. In case your doctor decides to physically examine you, you will be asked to remove your bottoms and underwear, and possibly your tops and bra.
You will most likely have a bathroom or small changing room to do this or a curtain for privacy. You might also be provided with something to cover up, like a towel in cloth or paper. Next, you will be asked to sit in the exam chair, and slide to the edge, and rest your legs in the stirrups – it is a weird position, but very useful for your gynecologist to examine you quickly.
There are essentially two kinds of exams that can be performed by a gynecologist: the pelvic exam and the breast exam.
The pelvic exam can be separated into three steps. The first is the external genital exam. Your gynecologist will observe your vulva and make sure everything looks normal and healthy. Secondly, the internal genital exam involving a tool called a speculum. Your gynecologist might use a tool that looks a bit like a duck’s beak to open your vaginal walls and take a look at your cervix. This should not hurt but might feel uncomfortable – it is quite quick at least. Lastly, the gynecologist might perform a bimanual exam, which consists of inserting two fingers in your vagina, pressing gently in your belly with the other hand, and feeling your ovaries and uterus. You will feel some pressure, but this should not hurt either. Anytime your gynecologist performs a pelvic exam on you, they will use medical gloves and a lot of lubrication, so do not worry.
Next up is the breast exam. In case your gynecologist decides you could use a breast exam, they will gently and quickly palpate your breasts – the nipple, areola, and the breast area – to make sure there are no lumps, rashes, discolorations or other problems.
Other exams and tests
You might be asked to leave a urine sample – especially if your gynecologist suspects you might have an STI or be pregnant. When girls complain about excessive pelvic pain during their cycles, gynecologists can perform an ultrasound – not only on pregnant women! – which is a great way to get a look into your internal organs.
What about the cervical smear?
This exam is not normally performed on a young girl’s first visit to the gynecologist. A cervical exam is only performed after the age of 20-25 years, depending on the country, and in women who have had sexual activity. This test allows gynecologists to look for signs of cervical cancer by collecting some cells from your cervix and later analysing them under the microscope.
Prepare in advance
As a good rule of thumb, try to not book a gynecologist visit if you are on your period. If you realise you got your period that morning and can’t reschedule, it is okay, but in the case, some exams are needed, your period can get in the way. However, gynecologists are used to periods, so don’t feel embarrassed or shy.
Contrarily to what you might think, you do not need to do any sort of personal grooming to visit a gynecologist. That is, you do not need to shave or wax. Pubic hair is normal, and your gynecologist has seen a lot of it. Keeping good hygiene, however, is a must, both before, during, and after the visit.
It can be helpful to write down any questions you might have for your doctor before the appointment, like PMS symptoms. That way you don’t risk forgetting out of stress.
Take good care. Of your vagina. Of yourself. Of our planet.