It’s normal to feel a bit intimidated if you have never been to a gynecologist before. Discussing sensitive health topics with a doctor and having them examine your vagina can seem strange and even a bit scary. Try to remember that your doctor performs these exams often, and that your first appointment is the right step in beginning a lifetime of healthy habits. Here’s what you can expect from your first visit:
What will happen during my gynecologic exam?
What your first appointment looks like will depend on your age, your medical history and any health concerns you have. For teens, the first visit may just be a talk with the doctor! In other cases, the doctor might conduct physical exams. Even if they end up not being done, it’s good to know what will happen during these exams.
Check out our How and when should I schedule my first gynecology appointment? article for information on how you can go about scheduling your appointment and which medical professionals can perform it.
There is no need for any specific preparation for your gynecology appointment. Just take care of your body the way you usually do, and wear comfortable clothes in which you feel good and can easily change from for exams. Some people experience a bit of spotting after certain tests, so you may think about bringing a pad or liner with you to the appointment.
If you know you will be getting a Pap smear, make sure the appointment isn’t scheduled during your period, and it is best to avoid sexual intercourse in the 24 hours before the test. You should also avoid using douches or creams around your vaginal area in the 48 hours before the test.
It is normal to feel a bit anxious during these exams, but remember that your doctor performs them all the time, and that they are in no way ever judging you or thinking about the way your body looks. If you are feeling nervous, tell your doctor! They will understand, and do their best to put you at ease and talk you through the whole process.
You can also ask someone you trust to come with you to the appointment or have a nurse be in the room with you if you do not want to be alone with the doctor.
Before the examination
Before beginning your examination, the doctor will ask you some questions about your medical history, your family medical history, your menstrual cycles and if you are sexually active. If you think you might have an STI, a vaginal infection or any other reproductive health issue, it is important you let your doctor know so that they may talk with you and decide whether any special tests need to be done.
Your healthcare provider may then weigh and measure you, take your blood pressure, and might also ask you to provide urine or blood samples. You will then be given a hospital gown to change into and asked to undress while the doctor and/or nurse leave you alone in the room to give you privacy.
Once you have undressed and put on the gown, your healthcare provider may ask you if you wish to have a breast exam done to check for any lumps or cysts. Even though the risk for breast cancer is low in young people, your healthcare provider might offer to perform the exam in order to show you how to self-examine your breasts. Although optional in most cases, this can serve as a valuable teaching moment and an opportunity for you to learn about a lifelong healthy habit.
Pap smear and pelvic exam
A pelvic exam is used to find possible signs of ovarian cysts, sexually transmitted infections, uterine fibroids or early-stage cancers. The pelvic exam also usually includes a Pap smear, used to screen for cervical cancer.
Although it is recommended that these tests start being conducted around the age of 21 for people that have a cervix and are or have been sexually active, your doctor may suggest you get them done earlier depending on any health concerns you are having or on your medical history.
There are usually three parts to a pelvic exam:
- The external exam, during which the doctor will look at the outside of your vagina.
- The speculum exam, during which an instrument is placed into your vagina and gently opened so that the doctor may see your vaginal canal and your cervix (the opening to your uterus). The doctor will then perform a Pap smear by swabbing your cervix using a tiny brush that will later be examined in a lab.
- The bimanual exam, during which the doctor will insert their gloved fingers into your vagina while using the other hand to apply pressure to the lower part of your belly, enabling them to feel your ovaries and uterus.
Although it is normal to feel discomfort, no part of this exam should be painful. To distract yourself from any unpleasantness, try taking slow and deep breaths, relaxing your body as much as you can and asking your doctor to talk you through what they are doing. Also remember that it will be over quickly, the whole process only taking around 5 minutes.
After the appointment
Your health care provider will follow up with you with any abnormal test results, although this isn’t always the case when all tests come back negative. If you don’t hear anything back within a few weeks, it should mean you are good to go, although you can always call the doctor in order to double check. Cancer Care Ontario will also send you your results by mail.
It is recommended you get a pelvic exam and Pap test every three years. If your test results were abnormal, you must then go by the recommendations of your healthcare practitioner.
No matter the results of your tests, remember that you can always book an earlier gynecologic appointment if any health concerns arise or if there is anything you wish to discuss with your doctor.
For more information
- The Canadian Woman’s Health Network – This FAQ section provides information on different women’s health issues. You can find articles about a wide range of topics, ranging from Pap tests to reproductive health concerns and body image.
- How and when should I schedule my first gynecology appointment? – An article about how to schedule your first appointment.
- Cancer Care Ontario - The website for the Ontario government’s principal cancer advisor. It provides information on prevention, screening and treatment for different cancers, including breast cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer.
- Sex & U – A website developed by the Society of Obstetricians Gynaecologists of Canada that provides accurate and up-to-date information and education on topics related to sexual and reproductive health.
- Women’s Health Matters – Developed by Women’s College Hospital, this website includes virtual health centres where you can get detailed information on conditions that commonly affect women.