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First Visit With the Gynecologist

First Visit With the GynecologistVisiting the gynecologist may be routine for many women, but if you’ve never been before – or if you haven’t been in a long time – it’s normal to feel anxious. Today we’ll talk a bit about why it’s important to go, what to expect during the visit, and what you can do to make the appointment easier.

Why should women see the gynecologist?

Gynecologists specialize in women’s health. So there are many reasons to see one:

  • Overall checkup. Perhaps you have an annual physical. Or you might see the dentist once or twice a year. While going to the gynecologist isn’t quite the same thing, it’s still good to make sure your female organs are healthy.
  • Cancer screening. Most of the time, a pelvic exam involves a Pap test. Doctors do this to check for any unusual cells on the cervix (the organ between the uterus and the vagina) that could turn into cancer later. But they also look for other types of cancer, such as vaginal cancer.
  • STI screening. If you’re sexually active and have been having pain or a vaginal discharge, your gynecologist can test you for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Some STIs don’t have symptoms, so it’s especially important to be tested if you’re having sex.
  • Breast exam.  Most gynecologists also conduct a breast exam to check for any abnormalities. They can also teach you how to do a breast exam at home.
  • Help with other issues. Gynecologists can help with other situations, like painful periods, missed periods, or birth control. Some gynecologists also work with their patients on eating disorders or gender identity issues.
  • Learn about your body. Even if you’re not sexually active and not having any problems, it’s still helpful to see your gynecologist. You can learn about your own anatomy and how the different parts of your reproductive system work together. Your doctor might let you hold a mirror to learn more about your individual anatomy.

What happens during the pelvic exam?

Often, the pelvic exam brings women the most anxiety. But knowing what to expect can ease your nerves a bit.

When you enter the exam room, you’ll be asked to remove all of your clothing and put on a gown. (Don’t worry – you can do this in private!) You’ll also be given a sheet to put over your legs on the exam table.

Once you’re ready, the doctor will ask you to lie down on the table with your legs opened wide and your feet placed in stirrups. Your genitals will be at the end of the table and the doctor will sit in a chair just below you.

First, the doctor will do a visual inspection of your external genital area, including the labia, vaginal opening, clitoris, and rectum.

Next, there is a speculum exam. A speculum is an instrument inserted into the vagina that helps the doctor see your vagina and cervix. It is usually made of metal or plastic. It has two blades that open, spreading the walls of the vagina a bit so that the doctor can get a better view. Speculums come in many different sizes. If it’s your first visit, your doctor will probably use a small one. He or she may also put some lubricant on the speculum so that it slides into your vagina more comfortably.

During the speculum exam, there will likely be a Pap test. The doctor uses a special brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix. This sample will be sent to a lab to make sure there are no problems.

Finally, there is the bimanual exam. The doctor will insert one or two gloved fingers into your vagina and gently press your abdomen. Doing this helps him or her check your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.

If it’s your first visit and you’re not sexually active, your gynecologist might not do a pelvic exam right away. He or she might talk to you about it and help you get ready for one at a later date.


How can women make the most of their visit?

Most women don’t relish the idea of seeing the gynecologist. Keeping these tips in mind can help make the experience go more smoothly.

  • Try to relax. For many of us, this is easier said than done when you are on the table with your feet in stirrups. Having your legs spread out seems unnatural for many of us, especially if we’re brought up to believe that good girls always keep their legs together. But relaxing is key to a comfortable exam. If your body is too tense, it will be difficult for your doctor to insert a speculum or finger and it might be painful for you. Try taking some deep breaths beforehand. Let the doctor know if you need a minute to calm down. Try to think of something pleasant. Some gynecologists have serene photos on their ceilings to distract women during the exam. Others start conversations about the latest movies or your summer vacation plans.
  • Be honest. Some women worry that if they tell the truth about their behavior, their doctor will disapprove. Your gynecologist shouldn’t judge you. So if you’ve been having unprotected sex with your boyfriend, don’t be afraid to say so. If you’ve had many partners, it’s okay to mention that, too. In fact, this information can help your gynecologist give you the best treatment and guidance possible.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Think of your gynecologic visit as an opportunity. Was there a question you always had in health class but were too embarrassed to ask? This is a perfect time to do so. Don’t worry if your question sounds silly or weird. If it’s important to you, it’s important to your doctor.
  • Build a rapport with your doctor. Most gynecologists are trained to put their patients at ease, especially if they haven’t had a pelvic exam before. They understand if you’re nervous. But if you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, you don’t have to continue seeing him or her. Rapport with your physician is essential. Without it, you won’t be able to relax for your exam or ask the questions you need answered.

Now that you have the basics, you’re ready for your visit! It’s an important next step to maintain good health – and good sexual health – for years to come.

Print this article or view it as a PDF file here: First Visit With the Gynecologist


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“Your First Gynecologic Visit”

(May 2011)

Center for Young Women’s Health

“Your First Pelvic Exam”

(Updated: August 22, 2013)


“5 Tips to Improve Your Visit to the OB-GYN”

(July 9, 2009)