Before the visit…

You need to select a doctor. Here’s how:

  • Decide whether you’ll be more comfortable with a male or a female doctor. It’s a very personal choice; you can assume that the two are equally competent.
  • Ask around for recommendations. Your mom probably goes to a gynecologist who she likes. Or you can ask friends, other female relatives, your school health clinic, or the local board of health.
  • Prepare a list of questions. Since it’s your first visit, you may feel a little preoccupied and forget to ask some questions you’ve been thinking about. Write them down so you’ll remember. An added plus: you’ll have someplace to look if a question embarrasses you.
  • Gather information. Like all doctors, the gynecologist will want to know your medical background in order to provide proper care. Sometimes when we’re nervous, we tend to forget even those things that we know very well, you know, like our own name! It may be helpful to write these things down in advance:
  • Your family’s medical history. If you don’t know whether heart disease, breast cancer or other conditions tend to run in your family, ask your parents.
  • Your own medical history. Include operations, diseases and allergies.
  • Symptoms. If you’re seeing the doctor because of a problem, be sure to note when your symptoms started, and describe them as completely as possible.
  • Menstruation details. If you’ve already started your period, be prepared to tell the doctor when your last one was, how long it usually lasts, and at what age you began menstruating. If you haven’t started yet, your doctor will want to know how old your mother or sister was when she first got her period.
  • Schedule the appointment. Try to time your visit when you’re not on your period. If you’d like someone to go with you, be sure to check her schedule in advance.
At the gynecologist’s office…
  • Take the pamphlets. Most doctors have lots of free booklets on a table in the waiting room for their patients. Pick up all the ones that interest you.
  • Tell the truth. When your doctor asks personal questions, answer truthfully. If you’re sexually active and she doesn’t bring up the subject, volunteer the information. You’ll need to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Write down important information. You’ll be learning a lot from the doctor and you may think you’ll remember it all. But most of us don’t. Though you won’t want to jot down every single word while you’re with the doctor, write down phrases that will jog your memory later and fill in the details as soon as you get home.
  • Make sure you understand. Doctors sometimes forget they’re talking to a patient and lapse into medical talk. If your gynecologist uses long complicated words and phrases that don’t make sense to you, politely ask him or her to word the information differently.
Your first pelvic exam.

A pelvic exam is a special kind of exam where the gynecologist examines your internal organs through the entrance to your vagina. If you’re having—or have had—sexual intercourse, it’s especially important to get an annual pelvic exam since sex puts you at risk for more than 30 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Many are “silent” infections, which means there aren’t any symptoms to let you know that anything is wrong. Some STDs are just irritating, others increase your risk of cancer and infertility, and some, such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), can kill you. Early treatment by your gynecologist can cure many STDs and lessen the impact of others.

What happens during a pelvic exam?

Your first visit won’t necessarily include a pelvic exam. If it does, the two most important things to remember are:

  1. It won’t hurt (you may feel pressure, but not pain).
  2. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes.

Now here’s what happens.

First, you’ll be asked to take off all your clothes, including underwear, and put on a paper gown that opens in the front. Your gynecologist might begin your exam with some of the same procedures as your regular doctor, like checking your height, weight and blood pressure. He or she will then examine your breasts and abdomen for unusual lumps, and ask you to lie on the examining table on your back, with your legs apart and your feet in supports called stirrups. You may feel uncomfortable and a little embarrassed, but the exam shouldn’t hurt. If it does, speak up. Pain may indicate a problem. The doctor will look at your external genitals: vulva, clitoris and vaginal opening. Then he or she will insert a special, lubricated instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This tool opens the walls of the vagina a little so the doctor can see inside. Once you’re dressed, your doctor will discuss your exam and ask you to come back for another Pap smear and pelvic exam next year.

After the visit…
  • Call with questions. Did you forget to ask some questions from your list? Did you realize after you left the office that you don’t understand something the doctor said or would like more information about it? Give your doctor a call.
  • Assess your doctor. Did the doctor really listen to what you were saying and answer your questions in terms you could understand? Did he or she treat you with respect? There are plenty of gynecologists in the world and no reason to continue seeing one who makes you uncomfortable.

There are some warning signs that are reason to see your doctor right away.

Reasons to see your doctor right away:
  • If you have been a victim of rape or sexual abuse.
  • Vaginal discharge that’s heavier than usual or has a strong color or odor.
  • Genital lumps or sores Vaginal redness, itching or burning.
  • A breast lump, abnormal nipple discharge, pain or change in breast contour
  • Abdominal pain aside from your usual cramps.
  • Changes in your period after you’ve been menstruating for more than a year.