Sexual Health

Ins & Outs of a Pelvic Exam

Kudos for making a pelvic exam a priority! Going to the gynecologist isn’t exactly known as the most fun activity. For some, it may be a little unnerving. You’ve got other things to do and you seem healthy, so why have a pelvic exam?

Regardless of whether you are cisgender, transgender, straight, queer, married, single or sexually active, a pelvic exam is a good idea. Just like other routine health check-ups, a pelvic exam is an important way to make sure you’re staying healthy. Your doctor will look at your vulva and internal reproductive organs—cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina.

What happens during a pelvic exam? Will I feel uncomfortable? What if the doctor finds something is wrong? These are all great questions and we’re so glad you asked!

With the right information, you can walk into your exam feeling confident (as you should be!); pelvic exams are quick and painless. Let’s walk through generally what to expect so there are no surprises. Disclaimer: there may be slight variations based on your provider.

External visual exam.

Your doctor will first look at your vulva, the external part of your vagina. Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes. Your doctor will look for abnormalities including irritation, redness, sores, or swelling.

Internal visual exam.

Your doctor will then look into your vagina using a speculum, a plastic or metal duckbill-shaped tool. (Apologies for using the word “duck” when discussing your reproductive health, but it truly looks like a duck). The speculum will be inserted and widened so your doctor can view your vagina and cervix. This is not painful, but can be uncomfortable. This is totally normal. Relax as much as possible by taking long, deep breaths.

Pap test.

Your pelvic exam may include a pap, which tests for cervical cancer and Human Papillomavirus or HPV (Human papa what? Read STI 101 for more info). Your doctor will use a small brush to swab your cervix and collect a sample of cells. After this, the speculum will be removed. Don’t worry, it’s not going back in again.

Bimanual exam.

To check your uterus and ovaries, your doctor will insert two gloved fingers into your vagina and gently press on your abdomen with the other hand. Your doctor will check the size and shape of your uterus and ovaries, as well as feel for any points of tenderness or abnormal growths.

Finally, your doctor may check your rectum by inserting a single gloved finger. This part of the exam may still come as a surprise but is painless and over in a second.

Altogether, pelvic exams typically take less than 10 minutes. Your doctor should tell you everything they’re doing along the way. If you have any questions at any point throughout your visit, always ask your doctor—there are no dumb questions when it comes to your health.

Your doctor will tell you immediately if anything is unusual. Pap results, however, typically take a few days. Congrats on owning your health and visiting your gynecologist!

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