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?
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 really killed you. See, better!*
Since you haven’t outlined what it is exactly that you’re afraid of about going to the gyno, we’re going to guess it’s 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 had intercourse for the first time: “What’s the big deal?”) Yes, there are much more enjoyable things to do than go to the gynecologist — even listening to Celine Dion 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 and does some gentle probing with a speculum and gloved fingers. (Read more specifics from your friendly neighborhood gyno, Dr. Kate, here!). 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.
To make the whole thing less daunting — i.e. more comfortable and less awkward — try the following suggestions.
1. Know Thyself
Get a mirror and start probing yourself. It 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 (clean) 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.
2. Love Thyself
We know talk of speculums and spreading eagle 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.
3. Get Doctor Recommendations
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 they’re in your health care company’s network, go to them. (If you don’t have health insurance, reach out to your local Planned Parenthood to see how they can help.) And if you think having a female doctor will help make you more at ease, then insist on one: there’s something to be said for having a gyno who can empathize with your body parts, and not inadvertently make you feel even more self-conscious while your pants are off. But just because a gynecologist is a woman, doesn’t automatically mean she’ll have a great bedside manner — which is why you really should get a personal recommendation.
4. Bring a Wingwoman
Have a close friend or family member come with you. 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 give the doc’s office a heads up 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.
5. Speak Up About Your Nerves
Tell your gyno that you’re nervous. Sounds basic, we know, but if they know you’re nervous (we’re guessing the wingwoman will be a hint!), they can make a special effort to talk you through what they’re doing as they’re doing it. The best gynos do this as a matter of course, which is just one more reason to get a recommendation. But if at the appointment your doctor starts the exam without explaining what they will be doing as well as what they are doing at any given moment, you have every right to pipe up and ask what they will be doing, why they’re doing it, and what they’re doing and why at any point during the exam. It may be par for the course for them, but it’s all new to you! Demand running commentary.
6. Relax, Just Do It
Learn how to relax, physically and mentally. Take some yoga classes, do your kegels, get in the habit of breathing deeply and abdominally — because honestly, the more tense you are, the more uncomfortable it’s going to be.
7. Reward Yourself
Schedule your appointment on a day when you can do something fun with your friend afterwards, so you have something to look forward to. But make a pact with yourself that you cannot do the fun thing unless you go to the doc first.
8. Honestly Explore Your Fears
Finally, if you think there’s a chance your fear stems from some past trauma you haven’t dealt with emotionally, please seek professional therapy. It can really help.
For more advice on the matter from a great gynecologist who looks at vulvas and in vaginas every day, read what Dr. Kate has to say!
Spreading the joy,
Em & Lo