Whether you're at your OB/GYN's office for a routine checkup or because you're worried about weird spotting, your doctor knows there are a million places you'd rather be. But while you might feel self-conscious, for her it's just another day at the office.
"It's not awkward for me -- I'm someone who thinks you should be able to say 'vagina' on TV -- but I know it can be embarrassing for patients," says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine. Still, it's in your best interest to get comfortable (enough) in those stirrups, to be honest about your most intimate health concerns, and to find out what she's really thinking while you're shivering in that flimsy gown.
'I hope you're being honest.'
"My standard opening line is, 'How can I help you today?' " says Minkin. In order to get good care, you need to answer that question honestly. Whether your libido has taken a nosedive, you pee a little when you cough, or you want to talk about birth control or STD testing, your provider can help -- if you open up and tell her what's going on.
'I'm not judging you.'
A good OB/GYN will ask a lot of questions, but it's not because she's nosy. Depending on your age and history, she might ask if you are having sex with multiple partners, are properly protected against pregnancy, or have plans to become pregnant in the future, says Minkin. Her only vested interest is making sure you're doing everything you can to protect your health.
'Don't stress about odor for my sake.'
Most vaginas have a slight odor. As long as you practice good hygiene (you should regularly rinse the external part of your genitals with a mild cleanser or just plain water), your scent is probably normal. That said, an unusually strong odor may signal an infection, so if you suspect something's off, ask. "The only reason I would care [about a patient's odor] is if I suspected she had an infection," says Minkin, who notes that a strong odor usually goes hand-in-hand with irritation, pain, or a weird discharge.
'Grooming? I don't care.'
How you style the hair (or lack thereof) in your nether regions is a matter of personal preference. "My older patients have no idea that younger women wax," says Minkin. And, no, some extra fuzz won't interfere with her ability to examine you. The only reason she might be concerned about hair removal? "We just don't want you getting irritation from shaving or waxing," she says.
Minkin suggests a few ways to get the most out of an OB/GYN appointment.
- See a provider you like and trust. If you don't feel comfortable, trust your gut and find someone new.
- Plan ahead. It's normal to blank under those fluorescent lights. If you have specific questions, jot them down ahead of time so you don't forget.
- Make your priorities clear. Be honest and straightforward. Also important: If your gynecologist is the only primary care provider you're seeing, make sure she knows that. Otherwise, she may assume that your internist has things like screening you for heart disease covered.
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