Putting the Spectacular Back in Speculum
The cold speculum, the stirrups, the swabbing—we can all think of better things to spread our legs for than a pelvic exam. But if you actually love your vagina, you’ll get them regularly to detect and prevent cervical cancer, infections, STDs and other nasties. When compared to an untreated bout of chlamydia, a pelvic exam looks like downright fun! I know—not really. But let’s try.
Schedule your exam when you’re not on your period and avoid any vaginal penetration 24 hours prior. I like to prepare my vagina for her public appearance with a little shower and pube trim, but I avoid douching before the exam (and, in my opinion, in general), as it kills good bacteria and irritates sensitive tissues. Make arrangements for a female doctor if you’d like and invite a friend if you need support (just have him/her stand by your head). Best empower yourself by researching what to expect from a good pelvic exam.
I ease any discomfort I have over placing my vagina directly in the face of a stranger by psyching myself up in the waiting room. I remind myself that though I may be lying down on the exam table, I’m certainly not lying down on the job of maintaining my reproductive health.
In the office, you’ll don a paper gown and lie down on the exam table with your feet in the dreaded stirrups. This is when I look for the silver lining. Isn’t the breeze on my exposed cheeks nice? How great to put my feet up in the middle of the day!
Once you’re properly splayed out, Gynocologist will ask you to scoot your booty to the table’s edge, as if she weren’t up close and personal enough. If you’re like me, she’ll need to ask you in installments of “A little closer,” “OK—just a little closer” as you stubbornly move a millimeter at a time.
Try to relax. Though every doctor’s office believes that taping a nature photograph torn out of a 1998 calendar to the ceiling will help you achieve this, it will not. Instead, focus on deep breathing and relax your muscles individually, especially your abdomen, glutes and legs, to ease physical discomfort.
Take control of your now-vulnerable position by asking Gyno to tell you what she’ll be doing down there before she does it, and why. Then count through the exam’s three stages, telling her if anything hurts.
First, Gyno will lightly prod the vagina’s outer folds and opening to check for cysts, discharge or irritation. Secondly comes the speculum. At the very least it’ll be lubed, and if your doctor is awesome, it’ll be warmed. The speculum will be gently inserted and used to widen the vaginal opening for a clear view of your cervix. Ask for any angle or size adjustments.
Tiny plastic utensils will be used to collect cervical cells that will be tested in a lab for cancer-indicating abnormalities. This is the pap smear part of the exam and can be uncomfortable, as almost nobody likes getting their cervix touched. While my friend says it makes her want to punch faces, I personally find it to be more cringe-worthy, like biting down on tinfoil with a dental filling. Luckily, it lasts mere seconds. This is the time to request an STD test. It’s just another swab and Gyno’s already down there, so why not?
Thirdly, Gyno will insert two gloved fingers while externally pressing on your abdomen to check your uterine health and for any pain, enlarged ovaries, cysts or tumors. This is, naturally, always when Gyno decides to make casual conversation. This is also, of course, the time when I try my hardest not to be reminded of a similar action to this one that happens during a little thing that rhymes with ‘koreplay.’ Awkward.
After this, you may want to get dressed and run far, far away. But don’t leave without a breast exam, answers to your questions and information about when to expect your test results.
Schedule your own speculum spectacular with Tapestry Health (http://www.tapestryhealth.org), the Valley’s clinic providing free or low-cost reproductive health services. What fun!