Let's be honest: A trip to the OB-GYN can come with its share of awkward moments.
Whether we're too shy to tell our doctor what’s really on our minds or worried about whether grooming is necessary before we go, there's something inherently a little nerve-wracking about the experience.
But what are our doctors thinking about during those visits?
To shed a little light on what's actually going through an OB-GYN's mind, we asked Dr. Christine Greves, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, Florida, to share the five things she wishes patients knew before they got in the stirrups.
1. Consider your OB-GYN’s office a judgement-free zone.
“I have a few patients say, ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t shave my legs!’ And I tell them, ‘Please, do not worry about it. In fact, I didn’t even notice,’” Greves says. The same goes for grooming and washing — she’s absolutely not judging.
“It’s whatever people want,” she says. “My whole objective is to make sure people are comfortable and make sure I don’t see any concerns — and I can look with hair or without. That’s how our bodies are made. If a patient feels more comfortable during the exam and wants to [groom], go for it. But it doesn’t matter to me.”
Your OB-GYN wants you to know: This is a safe space. “We want you to feel comfortable sharing anything and everything, and to know that that’s confidential — so just say it,” says Greves.
2. A routine exam, a pelvic exam and a Pap smear are all different. Here’s how.
When it comes to types of exams, the terminology can be confusing. Greves broke down the difference between ones we hear about often so you know what to expect.
“A routine exam is what I would call a routine preventative exam, meaning you need to have one annually,” she says. “As early as the ages of 13 to 15, (patients) can have their first OB-GYN exam to become established.”
A pelvic exam, a physical inspection of your ovaries and other reproductive organs by your doctor, is recommended at each of your annual exams starting at age 21, Greves says. However, there are certain exceptions to this age recommendation, like if you’re experiencing anything out of the ordinary or if you’re interested in an IUD, the T-shaped device that’s inserted into your uterus as birth control.
Now, let’s talk about the Pap smear. This is a test conducted by your doctor that involves sampling the cells on your cervix to check for abnormal cells. You don’t need to get a Pap smear until you’re 21, according to Greves.
“(It) determines whether we need to do more work-ups to see if they could have cervical dysplasia, which is basically pre-cancer of the cervix,” she says. “We also test for high-risk HPVs that can cause that. And we can test for infection at that time, like gonorrhea and chlamydia.”
As for how often you should get a Pap smear, Greves says those factors are “individualized.” If the patient has “no risk factors and a normal Pap smear history, for example, they will not be needed every year.”
3. Don’t skip your appointment because you have your period.
If your period and your visit with your OB-GYN coincide, don’t sweat it. Your doctor can still examine you while you’re menstruating, Greves says.
Most doctors now have an advanced version of the Pap smear so that your flow won’t impact the results of the tests.
“The previous ways of doing the Pap smear with the slides weren’t really able to capture the cervical cells as well, so it wouldn’t necessarily come back what we call adequate (results),” Greves says. “Meaning, you’d have to come back to make sure you got the right results because the bleeding washes the cells away. Now we have wonderful technology that can usually still get enough.”
Get a clearer idea of your specific physician's Pap tests by giving the doctor’s office a call beforehand.
4. Your vagina is self-cleaning.
When it comes to genital hygiene, your body does all the work itself by discharging dead cells and bacteria naturally. Using soaps specifically marketed as pH-balancing or for feminine cleansing isn't necessary.
“No need to douche,” Greeves says. “In fact, it’s not recommended because that can affect the pH. Using special soaps, for example, for the private area (are) not necessarily recommended. I just recommend a very basic soap, like Dove soap, to gently wash the external genitalia.”
5. Tell your OB-GYN if you have plans to start a family.
Do you see kids in your future? Knowing whether you'd like to get pregnant in the next five months or the next five years can help your doctor give you more informed guidance, so be as honest as you can about what's on your mind.
According to Greves, doctors like to initiate these conversations when discussing contraception options, as your plans can factor into what method makes the most sense.
“Some birth control options are long term, like an IUD or the little rod that goes in the arm called the Nexplanon,” she says. “If [patients] want something long term — which can last between three and 10 years depending on what they choose — then I don’t want to give them that type of birth control if they’re planning on having a kid in six months.”
So open up to your OB-GYN about what's on your mind. The more honest you are, the more your doctor can help you plan.