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What is a gynecologist, and when should I go? What will happen when I go to the gynecologist?

What happens during a visit to the gynecologist depends on the reason you are going.

If you aren’t having a problem and you just want birth control, then you may not need to get undressed for an exam. When you call to make the appointment, feel free to ask your doctor or nurse if you will need a pelvic exam or Pap test, both of which would require you to get undressed. If your doctor recommends an exam for another reason, then you will probably go through most, if not all, of the following steps.

The Exam

First, you’ll be asked to fill out a medical history form. Then, a clinician will talk to you privately about your sexual history. The questions can feel a little bit uncomfortable to answer, but it’s really important to answer each one completely and honestly. That’s the only way your health care provider can give you the information and services you need. Your medical records and history are usually confidential, meaning your health care provider won’t tell anyone, like your parents, but you should check with the gynecologist you visit. Being open will help your gynecologist offer you the best care. Doctors, nurses or other health care providers aren’t there to judge you; they just want to give you the best medical care possible.

After giving your medical history, you might be asked to provide a urine sample, using a plastic cup in the privacy of the bathroom. Next, you will go into an examination room, where you’ll undress and put on a paper or cloth gown. Once you’ve changed, a health care provider will come into the room for the exam. If you would prefer a clinician of a particular sex, you can request that ahead of time. In many cases, a female nurse will be present in the room during the exam regardless of the sex of the health care provider who is performing your exam.

Your gynecologist will listen to your heart and lungs, check your thyroid and may ask you to lie down for a breast exam. Some gynecologists may teach you how to examine your own breasts and feel for any unusual lumps or swellings that might need medical care. After the breast exam, the doctor will examine your abdomen, feeling the size and shape of your reproductive organs and check for anything unusual.

Then, you’ll be asked to lie on your back on the exam table and to slide down to the edge of the exam table and place your feet in what are called stirrups so that your legs are spread open. This position makes it easier for the gynecologist to examine the vulva and check both inside and outside the vaginal area. She or he will use a bright light to see better. Usually, the gynecologist will check the labia and vulva for the general health of the skin.

If you have been sexually active for at least three years or are 21 or older, the gynecologist will then insert a metal or plastic device called a speculum into the vagina. The speculum holds open the vaginal walls so the gynecologist can see the cervix, the tip and opening of the uterus, inside of the vagina. During this part of the exam, the doctor can also test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If the doctor tests for STDs, they usually use a long cotton swab to take a sample from inside the vagina and sometimes from the cervix.

The gynecologist will also gently rub the cervix with something similar to a tongue depressor (but smaller) to collect some of the cells from the cervical opening and near it. These cells are examined under a microscope at a lab. This is called a Pap test, which tests for irregular cells on the cervix that could indicate a pre-cancerous condition. The Pap test is generally painless as the cervix does not have many nerve endings, but the experience can be different for all girls.

After the Pap test, the gynecologist removes the speculum and inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the vagina while gently pressing on the abdomen with the other hand. This is called a bimanual, which means “two handed,” exam. The gynecologist is checking the position and size of the uterus and ovaries to be sure everything is healthy.

The pelvic exam shouldn’t be painful, but some parts of it can feel a little uncomfortable. Try to relax and breathe deeply. It only lasts a few minutes. If you feel any pain, tell the gynecologist right away so she or he can work with you to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
After the exam, before or after you get dressed, the gynecologist will ask if you have questions. This is when the gynecologist can prescribe birth control or any other medications and address any of your health concerns.

Doctors recommend that you get a checkup with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15, and that you get a pelvic exam, which we will describe later, by the time you are 21 years old. This also includes girls who have sex with girls only. Visits to the gynecologist should continue every year of your life to ensure good health, although you may not need the entire exam every year.

It may help you to read a personal account of a teen’s first visit to a gynecologist.

How to Find a Gynecologist

The best way is to ask a parent, guardian or other trusted adult (maybe an aunt or older cousin) to recommend a doctor they trust. Maybe they’ll even go with you on your first visit. If you do not want to see the same doctor as your parent or another adult you know, ask her gynecologist to recommend a colleague who is good with teens.

Many health clinics are free or offer reduced (sliding-scale) fees to teens who don’t have much money. For example, Planned Parenthood health centers offer low-cost, confidential health care to teens. To find the Planned Parenthood nearest you, call 1-800-230-PLAN (7526) or find a clinic near you.

Most health clinics keep these visits confidential and will not share a patient’s medical information with anyone without permission, even if you’re under 18. If you’re using your parents’ health insurance, however, the visit might show up on their bill, and your visit will not stay confidential. To find out what a health clinic’s confidentiality policy is, ask when you call to make an appointment.

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