Anyone with a vagina will tell you that they certainly do require a bit of maintenance every now and then. That’s why we have gynecologists, the doctors whom we trust immensely to take care of our lands down under.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that teens first see a gynecologist for a well-person visit (the kind where all your clothes stay on) when they’re between the ages of 13 and 15 — you know, the age where it feels as though the very mention of the word s-e-x may cause you to literally combust.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll never forget your first gynecology appointment. I was absolutely terrified — but only, I think, because no really one told me what to expect ahead of time. Flying blind is scary, especially when the “flying” involves a stranger (a medical expert, in this case, to be fair!) asking you very intimate questions about your body.
Dr. Staci Tanouye, a board-certified gynecologist, is here to be the voice of comfort for anyone feeling fearful as they approach their first gynecology appointment.
However, even if you’re feeling red in the face, rest assured your doctor is not — this is their job! — and will be doing their very best to put your anxious mind at ease.
“While I will ask you some very intimate and personal questions, keep in mind that I do this all day every day,” Dr. Tanouye shared. “I talk about sex, vaginas [and] vulvas with everyone. So while it may feel a little awkward to you to talk about those things, it’s not at all embarrassing for me. And I will do my best to make you feel as comfortable as possible talking about all of these personal questions.”
If you’re gearing up for your first-ever gyno appointment, Dr. Tanouye has shared a few FAQs she gets from patients and followers to help you feel just a bit more comfortable.
Do I need to shave for my first gynecology appointment?
You need to shave before your first gyno appointment like I’ve needed to shave my legs in quarantine — you don’t.
“You do not need to physically prepare in any way,” Dr. Tanouye said. “Meaning I don’t need you to paint your toenails for me or shave your legs for me, or even shave your vulva for me. In fact, it’s even healthier if you don’t.”
For those wondering, you also don’t have to dress to impress your gyno.
“When you are getting ready for your first appointment, you can wear whatever you want,” Dr. Tanouye shared. “Jeans, dress, shorts, underwear, no underwear. Come as you are. You may not need an actual pelvic exam so you might even stay dressed in the exam room. If you do need any sort of exam we’ll give you a gown to cover up and get you all prepared and ready.”
Is there anything I should be prepared to talk about at my first gyno exam?
Simply put, yes — a few things, and they may make you feel uncomfortable, but you should absolutely answer them wholly and truthfully. Your doctor is only seeking this information in order to provide you with the best possible care and legally cannot tell anybody — your guardians included — what you say.
“You may want to mentally prepare for some of the questions I will ask you because they’re going to get pretty intimate,” Dr. Tanouye revealed. “I will ask you things like, ‘Are you sexually active? What kind of sex are you having? Are you having vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex? Do you have sex with male partners, female partners, both types of partners?'”
“Don’t worry, I have heard all sorts of answers,” she added. “I just want to know all of this information so I can keep you happy and healthy.”
Do you share information about my sexual health with my parents or guardians?
We’ve already established that violating doctor-patient confidentiality is illegal, but to reiterate here, the answer to this question is no!
“One of the most common fears that I hear is if your parents have to be there, or will they find out what we talked about,” Dr. Tanouye told In The Know. “Everything you say to me is confidential. I am a legally bound secret keeper. Meaning, I will keep my mouth shut because it’s against the law for me not to. The one exception to this rule is that if I am worried about your safety in any way, if I think someone is harming you or you are at risk for harming yourself, I do legally have to tell someone.”
Other than that, your guardians can be involved in your appointment as much or a little as you want. If you want mom in the room to hold your hand, she is allowed to be there. And, if you want her in the parking lot with the radio cranked up, she can be there, too.
“The answer to that is it’s up to you,” Dr. Tanouye shared. “Oftentimes, parents can come in to make you feel more comfortable during certain parts of the appointment but I will always kick them out when I am asking you personal questions.”
Can you tell if I am a virgin or not during my exam?
First and foremost, the concept of virginity and its “value” has historically been used against women in order to shame them and oppress their sexual desires. And yet, in the year 2020, people still remain very self-conscious about the supposed virtue marker.
Dr. Tanouye urges patients not to be ashamed over “virginity” and, instead, just to be honest with their gynecologists. They’re not there to judge you — they’re there to keep you healthy.
“Let me tell you, I can tell 100 percent of the time whether or not my patients are virgins,” she said. “You know how? I ask them. And I trust my patients to tell me the truth.”
What happens if I am on my period or I have a lot of discharge during my appointment?
Let me tell you right now, discharge is never going to stop freaking you out, even though, most of the time, it is 100 percent normal! In a similar fashion, it is typically not a reason to cancel your gyno appointment, nor is your period.
“People call my office all the time asking me if they should cancel their appointment because they’re on their period,” said Dr. Tanouye. “The majority of the time [the answer is] no. You can come while you’re on your period. As long as your period is a normal amount or some light bleeding it doesn’t really matter.”
“People may also worry about the discharge that they’re having,” she added. “Do not worry at all about that. Normal discharge is normal. Everyone has it and that’s OK.”
However, Dr. Tanouye cautions that if you’re experiencing “really heavy” bleeding and you’re scheduled for a well-woman exam, you may want to consider rescheduling — but always call your doctor to discuss your symptoms before making any moves, especially if the heavy flow is out of character for you.
“If you’re scheduled for an appointment because you’re worried about your bleeding, I want to see you,” she said.
What exams will be performed?
Your doctor should not be performing any tests that you are not comfortable with, period.
“You are in complete control over what happens or doesn’t happen in this room,” Dr. Tanouye said. “We may give you recommendations of what we think we should do to evaluate whatever is going on, but it is always your choice and decision whether or not we do that. Also keep in mind that even if we start something, if you are not feeling comfortable it is okay to say, ‘I need to pause,’ ‘Can we stop?’ or ‘I can’t do this,’ and we will stop. It is your exam room.”
However, it’s important to note that your doctor’s initial recommendations will greatly depend on two things: your age and your sexual history, as well as any unusual symptoms you may report.
“During your first appointment, if you have been sexually active in the past, I will recommend screening for sexually transmitted infections,” she added. “But, I want you to know that you don’t necessarily need a pelvic exam for that one either. I can screen for all the major STIs from just a simple urine or a blood test.”
Will my future appointments be different?
Although your gynecologist appointments may involve a lot of conversation in your early teenage years, once you turn 21, your doctor may start talking about doing regular pap smears to check for things like HPV and cervical cancer.
This author, a 27-year-old seasoned gyno vet, genuinely believes those appointments aren’t that scary either — one time, my doctor helped me make a dinner reservation at a trendy new Greek restaurant while literally performing my pelvic exam, and the food was delicious.
All in all, Dr. Tanouye says she hopes that by shedding light on a sometimes scary rite of passage, she can help young people avoid negative feelings about themselves and their bodies as they navigate their first gynecological appointment.
“I once had a patient tell me she was super nervous because she was afraid she wasn’t pretty ‘down there,'” Dr. Tanouye revealed. “I want you to know that vulvas come in all shapes, sizes and skin tones. There is no beauty contest in my exam room.”
If you found this article useful, read about these sexual assault survivors who are using TikTok to share their stories.
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