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Auntie SparkNotes: What Happens At The Gynecologist?

Auntie SparkNotes: What Happens At The Gynecologist?

Hi, Auntie!
I'm going to have a gynecology appointment this summer. Are they horrible? What should I expect? What are some great questions to ask that it would be awkward to ask your mom? I'm sure a lot of people will relate to this question... I hope.

I'm glad you asked! Because your annual gynecological appointment is quite the bag of tricks. First, you'll be asked to remove all your clothes and put on a paper gown, a paper hat, a Ronald Reagan mask, and a pair of fuzzy slippers that look like dinosaur feet.

Then, you and your gynecologist will dance a brief tango, after which Batman will be sent into the exam room to interrogate you about your sexual activity and general health.

And then, finally, you'll have a pelvic exam in front of a live studio audience! Performed by a trained bear! Oh, and bring a book and a sandwich, because the whole thing takes about seventeen hours, start to finish.

...Just kidding! And hey, won't you be relieved now when I tell you it's just a handful of questions, a little light groping, and a speculum or two... and that it's all over in about 30 minutes?

Because really, your standard gyno appointment is nothing to get anxious about. And while it's not exactly wonderful—getting a pelvic exam is pretty much the least fun thing you'll ever do while half naked—it's not horrible, either. And hey, a little discomfort one day per year is a small price to pay for keeping your ladybusiness robust and healthy. Right? Right!

The progression of the exam varies from office to office, but here's the usual rundown. (Note to the Manklers: Yes, you can sit this one out. Go get yourself a root beer or something and play a round of Angry Birds.)

First comes the paperwork. You'll need to know your family medical history (ask your parents before you go), the date of your last period, and whether you're taking any medications. And before anything else happens, you'll probably be given a cup and told to pee in it... ew, no, not here! In the bathroom!

Then, with your pee cup in hand (be considerate and wipe it down with a paper towel), you'll be escorted to the exam room, where you'll be given the standard once-over (weight, blood pressure, general questions about your health) by a nurse. You'll be handed a piece of medical-grade haute couture (also known as a flimsy cloth or paper gown) and left alone to undress. Yes, you can leave your socks on. No, it won't make you feel less naked.

Once you're be-gowned and ready to go, your doctor will come in to chat. She'll ask you questions—about smoking, sexual activity, your menstrual cycle, whether you want birth control, etc. Do not lie to her. She's not here to judge you.
And then, it's your turn. If you have any questions—from "Is this herpes?" to "Where do babies come from?"—now's the time to ask. There's no such thing as a universally great question; it's all a matter of what you need or want to know about your anatomy, your periods, or your sexual health. It's also the time to disclose anything out of the ordinary. The rule of thumb: if it hurts, itches, oozes, or smells, make sure your gyno knows about it.

And now, the main event! First, your gyno will check your breasts for lumps, and give you some instructions on how to do this yourself. And then, it's go time: put your heels in the cups, scoot down so that your knees splay open, and try to relax. If you're scared or uncomfortable, tell your doctor so that she can talk you through the process.

Which, for the most part, is as follows:

- Your doctor will insert a couple of (gloved) fingers into your vagina, followed by a speculum, which will prop things open and provide an unobstructed view of your cervix. This isn't pleasant, but the more you relax your pelvic muscles, the less uncomfortable you'll be. (If it hurts, say something.)

- Using what's basically the longest Q-tip ever, your doctor will swab your cervix for cell samples, which will be sent to a lab for testing. Some women feel an unpleasant twinge when this happens; others don't feel anything at all. If you're getting tested for STDs, you'll be swabbed a couple times.

- After removing the speculum, your doctor will insert her fingers into your vagina again and press on your abdomen with her other hand, in order to feel for any lumps or inflammation on your ovaries. This can be really unpleasant—it's a lot of pressure—but it's over in about three seconds. You can handle it.

- Extra bonus round: A very thorough gynecologist will stick her finger in your rectum for good measure. You won't have time to object, but there won't be any hard feelings if you screech with surprise.

And with that over, it's time for...

Clean up, get dressed, and meet your gyno in her office for a post-exam chat. This is where you'll get parting advice, a birth control prescription (if you've requested one) and instructions on using it, and answers to any questions you happened to think of while you were lying naked on the table. And then, finally...

Not required, but you deserve some.

Got some helpful feedback about visits to the gyno? Got any other questions about what to expect when you're a speculum? Leave 'em in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, health, doctors, awkward questions, gynecologists

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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