A Guide to Gynecological Exams: What You Need to Know
Thu. October 19, 2023

A Guide to Gynecological Exams: What You Need to Know

Regular gynecological exams are essential to your reproductive health, but the thought of an exam can be anxiety-inducing. Gynecologist anxiety is a reality for many women, from teens to older adults. 

A 2021 study found that between 21% and 64% of women experience anxiety or fear around gynecological exams. Around 52% of women also feel embarrassed, which can make it difficult to schedule these important screenings. 

If you struggle with worry or anxiety about an upcoming gynecological exam, knowing what to expect and how to make the visit more comfortable makes it a less intimidating experience.

Why Gynecological Exams are Vital to Your Health

Understanding the importance of gynecological exams is your first step toward taking charge of your reproductive well-being. These check-ups help you maintain the health of your vagina and cervix and screen for potential health issues early on. 

Here’s why these exams are crucial for your health:

  • Spot potential issues early: Gynecological exams help identify concerns like ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids early, making treatment easier and more effective.
  • Screen for cancer: Through regular exams and Pap smears, you can catch signs of breast or cervical cancer, helping you get early treatment.
  • Manage your sexual health: These exams allow you time to discuss contraception and other sexual health topics. They also help screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which are on the rise in the U.S. Between 2020 and 2021, gonorrhea cases have risen by 4%, syphilis by 32% and chlamydia by 4%. 
  • Assess fertility and receive prenatal care: If you plan to start a family or are already pregnant, these exams provide essential care and advice. 
  • Tackle hormonal imbalances: During a gynecological exam, you can discuss any menstrual irregularities or menopausal symptoms with your gynecologist to manage hormonal changes effectively. This is particularly helpful for women entering menopause as hormones shift and change. 

When to Visit a Gynecologist for the First Time

If you are a teen or have a teenage daughter, you may wonder, “When should a girl have her first pelvic exam?” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pelvic exams start for girls between 13 and 15. However, pelvic exams typically start around age 21 unless health issues or symptoms require an earlier examination. 

The frequency of gynecological visits may vary throughout your life, but it’s usually once every three years. However, if you notice unusual discharge or pelvic pain or are planning for pregnancy, you may visit more frequently to address your reproductive health concerns.

What to Expect When You Visit a Gynecologist

Stepping into a gynecologist’s office, especially for the first time, can bring a mix of emotions, from curiosity to nervousness. Knowing what to expect can alleviate anxiety and help you prepare for the visit. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of what a typical visit to a gynecologist entails:

  • Check-in and paperwork: You’ll complete forms detailing your medical history and current health on arrival. This can include disclosing your number of sexual partners, use of medications, or any other concerns such as vaginal bleeding or discomfort. 
  • Pre-exam consultation: Before the physical exam, you’ll discuss your health, menstrual cycle, sexual activity and any concerns with the gynecologist.
  • General physical exam: Your provider will conduct a general physical exam, measuring your height, weight and blood pressure.
  • External genital exam: You will lay back on the examination bench and place your feet in two holders called stirrups, allowing the gynecologist to get a better view of your reproductive organs. Your provider will then visually examine your external genital area for abnormalities or infections. 
  • Internal exam (pelvic exam): Your provider will use a speculum, a metal or plastic device that gently opens the vaginal canal, allowing the gynecologist to inspect your cervix and vagina. They may also check your uterus and ovaries using gloved fingers.
  • Pap smear: Typically, starting at age 21, you will have a Pap smear to check for cervical cancer as part of your exam. A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix to detect abnormalities that could indicate an infection or potentially lead to cancer, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Additional tests or discussions: If needed, your provider may send your samples to the lab for analysis and discuss any additional topics regarding birth control, STIs, or women’s health topics.

How You Can Make Your Gynecological Exam More Comfortable

Even if you feel nervous before an exam, you can take a few actions to make it more bearable. Here are a few tips for pelvic exams to make your gynecological exam a more comfortable experience:

  • Choose a trusted gynecologist: Select a provider you feel comfortable with, as trust and comfort with your gynecologist can impact your experience. You can use the ACOG’s searchable database to find a licensed provider near you. 
  • Schedule wisely: Pick a date for your exam when you’re not on your period. This can help make the experience less uncomfortable and allow your gynecologist to view your vagina and cervix more clearly.
  • Communicate openly: Share any concerns or fears with your gynecologist before the exam begins. Ask as many questions as you need to feel more secure in the procedure. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Use breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques to calm your nerves before and during the exam. This could be as simple as box breathing, which involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling and holding again, each for a count of four, to promote relaxation and help ease anxiety during the examination process.
  • Explore comfortable equipment like Nella Spec: This reusable disposable speculum with a light was created with patient comfort in mind. Its slim design and soft material allow for a more personalized fit, reducing discomfort during the internal exam.
  • Dress comfortably: Wear clothing that’s easy to change in and out of to ease the process. Consider ordering a Nella Comfort Kit with a neutral-temperature speculum and a pair of cozy socks. 
  • Stay informed: Knowing what to expect during the examination can help alleviate anxiety and make the experience more comfortable.
  • Follow-up: If parts of the exam feel uncomfortable, discuss these with your gynecologist afterward to explore how future exams could be made more comfortable.

Improve Your Exam Experience With Nella 

A vaginal exam is a slightly uncomfortable but necessary medical check-up for most women. For years, gynecologists used cold metal speculums or hard plastic devices to conduct pelvic exams, which made this challenging exam more intimidating than necessary. 

At Nella, we are changing the way you experience pelvic exams with the Nella disposable speculum. Designed for women by women, Nella’s comfortable speculum is preferred by 99% of patients for its slim design, flexible material and silent operation. 

Order your Nella Comfort Kit today or talk with your provider to have it shipped to their office for your next visit. Take care of your reproductive health and treat yourself to a more relaxed exam with Nella. 

TAGS: Gynecological Exams