There are some things that you would rather not have to do, such as booking your annual gynecological examination, but as you understand the importance of getting things checked on a regular basis, you go ahead and make that call.
Rather than just make some general assumptions about what happens during this annual physical examination specifically for women, it makes sense to get a greater understanding of your testing options, so that you can make the most from your visit.
Good reasons why you put yourself through this
Quite simply, in order to give yourself the best possible chance of maintaining what could be classed as a good reproductive and sexual health, most women from the age of 21 and 30 in particular, should book themselves an exam every 12 months.
For starters, having a Pap smear annually is generally considered essential in order to help with the all-important early detection of signs of cervical cancer, which is often critical to survival rates.
There are other perfectly valid reasons for visiting a gynecologist, such as seeking a further potential explanation and treatment for irregular periods. The gynecologist can also exam you for evidence of sexually transmitted infections and any vaginal infections that you might be experiencing.
You can also consult a gynecologist to talk about contraceptive methods if that is something you would like to talk to them about.
What to expect
If you have not been before or for some time, there are a number of things that it would help to know about the exam, so that you are prepared for what lies ahead when you arrive for your appointment.
You should expect the gynecologist to routinely ask you questions about your sexual history and ask for details about your menstrual cycle.
Both of these lines of questioning are perfectly relevant and will help them to get an idea of anything in particular that they should be looking out for, having been given this information.
Being asked some highly personal questions of this nature can make some women feel uncomfortable, but in terms of preparing for your visit, you should also be prepared for some potential physical discomfort too.
The gynecologist will want to physically examine your breasts and genitals as well as ask you some personal questions regarding your sexual health and history. At least if you know that this is what is coming, it can help you to prepare.
Unfortunately, you might experience some physical discomfort during the examination, but as these examinations are often crucial to your reproductive and sexual health in particular, it is something that will unfortunately just have to be tolerated as much as you possibly can, especially when you consider the possible consequences of skipping an examination.
Make it easier all round
There are a number of ways to prepare for your exam and make the process easier for you and the gynecologist.
It would be preferable if you can schedule an appointment that works in between your period, as menstrual fluid can sometimes interfere with lab results as the examination itself. Try to avoid having intercourse up to 24 hours before your visit and also avoid inserting any vaginal products during this same timeframe.
There is the chance that sexual activity can irritate your vaginal tissue, which could distort the results of the Pap test.
Learn more about the Pap test and pelvic examination
Any amount of uncertainty can make you more stressed than you need to be when it comes to visiting your gynecologist, so it makes sense to learn more about the process, so that you are not so anxious when you turn up for the appointment.
The clinician will ask you to position yourself at the edge of the exam table, in preparation for putting your feet into the stirrup-style foot rests that you will see in front of you. The next step when you are ready is to separate your thighs and try to stay calm and relaxed.
Not always easy to do when you are in such a vulnerable and uncompromising position, but if you have had a pelvic exam before, it least you can call upon that experience to try and chill as much as possible, which makes the exam easier and over quicker.
Pap smears are used as a way of detecting the presence of any abnormalities which might be a potential sign of cervical cancer, an STI or vaginal infection.
It is never a good idea to take any risks with your health, which is why a yearly visit to the gynecologist is just something to perhaps endure rather than enjoy, but at least it serves a vital purpose.
Ben Sanderson works closely with the health screenings department in his role as a community health worker. He writes about topics that can be difficult to discuss yet are essential for your health, hoping to help more people feel at ease at their next appointment.