First, I want to state that I understand that there are a million things you would rather do than have a pelvic exam, but it is something you shouldn’t put off because it could detect a medical problem or infection, and could even save your life.
In the United States, approximately 12,000 women get cervical cancer every year. If detected early through a pap test, there is a very high survival rate. The new recommendation is for individuals to have the exam at the age of 21, unless there is a medically necessary reason to have it sooner. However, many women will have visited a gynecologist or medical provider before this time to address other concerns related to birth control options, STI information and/or testing, menstrual issues, etc.
Most women will have the exam one time per year, but some will have it more frequently or less frequently depending on age, medical history, and medical or sexual health needs.
- Make sure that you don’t schedule the appointment when you have your period. Your menstrual blood can affect the lab results and you will probably have to reschedule.
- Do not have vaginal sex or insert anything into the vagina for at least one to two days prior to the exam. This includes feminine products such as douches, feminine sprays, and powders.
- Remember to write down any questions you have for the medical provider that you would like answered during your visit.
- Let the receptionist or person scheduling your appointment know if you are uncomfortable with having the exam because it is your first time, you have never had vaginal sex, or you have experienced sexual trauma. This will let the staff know that they need be slower and gentler, explain what they are doing in more detail, and they may also want to use a smaller speculum. You can also request to have a family member or friend in the room with you, or have a staff member hold your hand.
- If you are unsure whether you should have a pelvic exam or haven’t had one in a while, you can locate a Planned Parenthood near you.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I will discuss what to expect during the exam.