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Dear Em & Lo: I’m Terrified of Going to the Gyno! (Part 1 of 2)

Wed, Jan 14, 2009

Advice, Dear Em & Lo

gynecologist_notphoto by Simon Davison

Gynecologist Dr. Kate weighs in on this question in the subsequent post.

Hey Em and Lo,

I know how important it is to see a gyno, but honestly, I am terrified to go.¬† I’ve actually made several appointments since I lost my virginity about nine months ago, but every time the date approaches, I find myself canceling last minute.¬† I’ve tried positive thinking, ignoring thoughts of the upcoming exam, and mentally walking myself through the steps that I expect the exam to take. However, every time I do, I get so nervous I nearly puke.¬† I know how important it is to be checked regularly and especially now that I’m not a virgin.¬† Can you give me any advice on how to overcome my fear?

Sincerely,
‘Fraidy Cat


Dear ‘Fraidy Cat,

That’s a bummer.

Okay, that’s all the sympathy you’re going to get from us, because you’ve got to get over it. Your health is at stake, especially now that you’re sexually active — and there’s nothing more important.

We all have to do things we don’t like: take our vitamins, shovel snow when it’s blocking the front door, pay our taxes, leave the womb. But we do it; we just get it over with as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible — and it ultimately makes our lives easier and better. When you were a kid, you certainly didn’t want to get your shots, but you had to, your parents made you, you didn’t have a choice — and at the time, you probably thought you were going to die. But you didn’t. And because you got the shots, you’ve avoided getting terrible diseases which could have killed you. See, better!*

Since you haven’t outlined what it is exactly that you’re afraid of, it sounds like it’s more an irrational fear of the unknown. Trust us, you’re making a bigger deal out of it than it really is. (You probably thought the same thing when you finally lost your virginity: What’s the big deal?) Yes, there are much more enjoyable things to do than go to the gynecologist — even listening to Spencer Pratt talk is better…but not by much! You lie back, bend your knees, spread your legs, breathe deeply and try to relax while your gyno takes a look down there (more deets from Dr. Kate tomorrow). It usually takes less than two minutes (though our nerves can make it feel like fifteen). It’s not painful, just a bit uncomfortable and awkward.

Here are 8 things we’d recommend to make the whole thing less daunting, i.e. more comfortable and less awkward:

  • Get a mirror and start probing yourself. It’s sounds hippy-dippy, but the better you know your own body, the more empowered you’ll be. Doctors are often scary because they hold all this knowledge that you don’t. Even the playing field a bit by getting down there and taking a look around. Feel inside with your fingers. You can even order your own speculum from a female-friendly place like GoodVibrations so you can see what your gyno can see. (Just be sure to read up on proper procedure.) Plus it’ll get you familiar with the feeling.
  • We know talk of speculums and beaver shots may sound gross, but there’s nothing gross about your body. Try to have happy, positive thoughts about your bod, especially your genitals — learn to love them, and then you’ll want to take care of them by going to the doctor regularly.
  • Go to a doctor that comes highly recommended. Ask around and find out who among your friends and family has a great gyno — then, assuming she’s in your health care company’s network, go to her. And we do mean her — having a person who can empathize with your body parts, and not inadvertently make you feel even more self-conscious while your pants are off really makes a difference, at least in our book. But just because a gynecologist is a woman, doesn’t automatically mean she’ll have a great bedside manner (which is why you need the personal recommendation), but the odds are probably better with a lady doc.
  • Have a close friend or family member be your wingwoman: Explain the situation and ask for help. Make the appointment for a time they can come along with you. Have them pick you up and go with you to the appointment. Have them come into the exam room with you (just get clearance from the doc’s office beforehand). Have them hold your hand, make eye contact with you and distract you with small talk during the exam. Don’t worry about being perceived as a wimp — if it makes you feel better and keeps you up on the exam table, that’s all that matters. If you’re there, you’re not a wimp.
  • Tell your gyno that you’re nervous. Sounds basic, we know, but if she knows you’re nervous (we’re guessing the wingwoman will be a hint!) she can make a special effort to talk you through what she’s doing as she’s doing it. (The best gynos do this as a matter of course, which is just one more reason to get a recommendation.)
  • Learn how to relax, physically and mentally. Take some yoga classes, do your kegels, get in the habit of breathing deeply and abdominally — because the more tense you are, the more uncomfortable it’s going to be.
  • Schedule your appointment in the afternoon so you can go to lunch and have a glass of wine first. Then, make sure you have something fun to do with your friend afterwards, so you have something to look forward to. But make a pact with yourself that you can’t do the fun thing unless you go to the doc first.
  • Finally, if you think there’s a chance your fear stems from some past trauma you haven’t dealt with emotionally, seek professional therapy.

Be sure to stay tuned for more advice on the matter tomorrow from a nice woman who looks at vaginas all day long: Dr. Kate!

Spreading the joy,

Em & Lo

* Let’s save debates about vaccinations for another website.

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8 Responses to “Dear Em & Lo: I’m Terrified of Going to the Gyno! (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Carol Says:

    Last month I did my first visit to the gyno. My biggest fear was about the exams & that she would tell my mother I’m not a virgin anymore. I was really nervous when I got there, but everything went ok! She was super sweet to me, and I’m sure my secret is pretty safe with her ;)

  2. Amanda Says:

    When I had my first ‘annual’ I had 2 things going against me: The usual fear AND white coat syndrome…to the point where the thought of any sort of exam caused full on panic attacks, my blood pressure would skyrocket and I refused to sit on the table.

    If you have a regular doctor you trust, see if they can do it. My PA does my exams. I dont even have a gynecologist.

    The suggestion to bring a friend is really good. Helped me a ton. It also can help prevent the chicken out factor.

    And the clincher that got me in the door? Valium. I explained all of my fears to my PA. Still she knew I needed to come in. She offered up a solution: She prescribed me 2 low dose valium. One for before, one for after the appt to take the edge off.

    After you get through the 1st one its easy. After my exam I was like ‘Really? Thats it?’
    Honestly, it takes less than 10 minutes, its far less invasive then sex & its necessary to get birth control. Not to mention there is a strange sense of relief to know everything down there is a-ok.

  3. Trace Says:

    What is with this US gyno visiting thing? Why do you go exactly?
    Obviously we have smear tests here but that’s just the nurse every couple of years or so!

  4. Em & Lo Says:

    That’s right, in England you don’t have a gyno, do you? You just go see your regular family doctor & nurse for everything? Not sure if that would be better or worse. There’s something nice about having a doctor’s office that’s dedicated to your lady parts. But then again, if you see one doc/nurse for everything, from the flu to a UTI to a pap smear, then you probably get to develop more of a relationship.

  5. Epiphany Says:

    I never had any anxiety, but for my late teens and my early twenties, my pelvic exam was always performed by my family doctor, who’d been treating me since middle school. A few years ago I had a terrible experience at a Planned Parenthood clinic, which led me to seek recommendations from friends. I found a nurse practitioner that I see now – at the beginning, it was difficult to afford, but so worth it. If I had no choice and had to go back to PP, I probably would have a great deal of anxiety, but where I go now, it’s no big deal. They’ve also done a great job making the place cozy and not so clinical.

  6. Tracy Says:

    Oh yes there’s certainly a relationship. There’s one nurse here in particular, she did my first smear when I was still at school, last year she aided the GP in my husband’s vasectomy!
    She’s seen every tom, dick and fanny in town I reckon!
    GP’s and nurses are like a gateway to other specialists so you’d see a gynae if there was something wrong, but not just for a general check.

    Bit like birth, we don’t see doctors for antenatal care of delivery unless high risk. Again we develop a relationship and the same midwife looked after me and my 3 boys over the years, delivering the last one in my home.

  7. Amber Says:

    I personaly prefer my gyno simply because they tend to be a little better at catching problems in my experiance. I’m an old school girl, my husband was my first and he was my husband first so when I started to have this weird discharge I totaly freaked. I had never even had a yeast infection and I went to the np I’d been seeing for everything from the flue when I was 4 to my first pap at 20 she said it was a yeas infection and I took the creams she gave me like I was suppose to and it only got worse. My husband is the one who got me to go to the gyno and I totaly didn’t want to go. For me it wasn’t the fear of pain as much as a stranger going splunking down there. But I found one that came highly recomended and it was a man, but he was so great and had a wonderful bedside manner that both my husband and I were put at ease. It turned out to be a bv, and again I freaked. My doctor calmed me down before I killed my poor husband and explaind it was just a common bactirial infection and my honey-do had nothing to do with it. Sence then he has seen me through 2 high risk pregnancys, and saved my son wen he came out a still born.


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