“If your vagina could talk or wear something, what would it say or wear?” asked Eve Ensler in her award-winning play The Vagina Monologues. Various answers come to mind. One thing it probably would do is ask you to choose your gynecologist well. But for first-timers, and even for some who’ve already been to one, the idea of going to an obstetrician-gynecologist, or OB-gyne, can be scary.
Lisa, 25, has never gone through a gynecological examination before.
“I’ve been meaning to [see a gynecologist],” she says. “I’ve just been delaying it. Kasi I feel apprehensive about it. Nakakailang. I also find it quite intrusive—I get put off by that.”
Lisa says she’s never liked going to doctors to begin with. But because she’s been sexually active for four years now, she feels she needs to do so. “I’m just scared that they might find something [wrong with me],” she says.
Elaine, 26, shares similar fears. “Growing up you hear about OB-gynes and what they do. I realized that I didn’t want to go to a doctor like that,” she says. “You’re raised [to believe] your vagina is your most precious part…even my mom was afraid of the OB-gyne so it was very hard for me.”
“My reason is much more mababaw,” says Charmagne, 26. “I’m so conscious about what the doctor will say if she looks at me down there. I mean, I take care of my hygiene very well, but still, natatakot ako na baka sabihin niya ‘Ay! How dark naman your singit!’ Or ‘You smell!’ or “Don’t you ever trim?’”
For Pilar, 33, married with two children, the experience is still unnerving even though she’s already gone through several pelvic examinations.
“I just don’t feel comfortable lying on the examination table, opening my legs, and hooking myself up on those stirrups!” she says. “At ayoko rin kasi nung feeling na kinakalikot ako.”
It can be tough, but there are ways to ease things up for yourself in your gynecologist’s office so you’ll get the most out of the examination. First, make yourself realize the importance of seeing a doctor, especially if you are sexually active. This goes for both married and unmarried women.
“This is important because it is one way of listening to your body,” says Dr. Florence Tadiar who heads the Women’s Health Care Foundation.
“You don’t go to a doctor just to find out what’s wrong,” she advises. “To know what is abnormal, you first have to know what is normal for you. That way, any deviation from your normal conditions can be detected earlier.”
Changes in your body that you may normally overlook such as secretions, menstruation, and hormones can be analyzed by your OB-gyne so that you learn so much more, Dr. Tadiar adds.
The Right Choice
Choosing a good gynecologist is not always easy. Thea, 29, and Myrna, 33, learned this the hard way.
“I needed to see a gynecologist because I was beginning to feel funny,” Thea shares. “But I soon discovered that the visit was not going to help me any. The doctor asked me if I was sexually active. I said yes. Then she gave me this disapproving look and said ‘Ay naku!’ She also inquired if I was taking any form of contraception and I said I was on the pill.”
Thea says the doctor frowned on that as well and told her to just use the rhythm method.
“She asked me if I knew how it’s done and I said yes. She asked me to explain it to her, and when I did, she told me I was wrong. In the end, she kept insisting that I just get married, presumably so that I’d end my ‘immoral ways.’”
Myrna had her first experience visiting a gynecologist at 17 when her mother brought her to see one. Myrna was having 12-day menstrual cycles that time, which was already beginning to affect her health. The following year, she went to see the gynecologist on her own.
“At 18, despite never having engaged in intercourse (but doing everything but), I was convinced I was pregnant,” Myrna shares.
“I was so paranoid that I imagined spotting all the symptoms of pregnancy that I had read about—breast tenderness, the linea negra, etc. My paranoia sent me back to my mom’s gyne because she was the only gyne I knew. I told her that I thought I was pregnant. She looked at me, shook her head and said, ‘Tsk, tsk, ang mga kabataann nga naman ngayon,’ after which she yelled for all the world—and the other patients waiting in her clinic—to hear ‘Pregnancy test daw, o!’”
“I ran to the hospital chapel (after being administered the test) and cried, praying ‘God, please don’t let me be pregnant—I promise I’ll never have sex again!’ Of course I wasn’t pregnant and, of course, I couldn’t live up to my promise. So I decided to go on the pill.”
Both Thea and Myrna decided to see other gynecologists and were happy with the results.
“My new gynecologist was a classmate of my friend’s dad in med school,” says Thea. “She’s older than my first gynecologist, but I found her to be more sensitive and, more importantly, non-judgmental.”
For her part, Myrna read about the Women’s Health Care Foundation and went to their clinic in Cubao.
“The doctors were young, friendly, and non-judgmental. Still, I was scared and gave a generic pseudonym, like Ana dela Cruz or something. I had visions of my mother finding out and raiding the clinic looking for my records!”
Still, her new doctor erased Myrna’s earlier fears about facing gynecologists.
Dr. Tadiar shares that true reproductive health care includes a thorough examination from head to toe.
“Reproductive health care is not limited to your reproductive organs, although most of the focus is there,” says Dr. Tadiar. “It involves the totality of the person. That is why it is important for your gynecologist to be able to see the connection between your reproductive organs and the rest of your body.”
Dr. Tadiar says that any good gynecologist should be able to give a thorough pelvic examination, checking for infections or abnormalities. A breast examination must also be included in a routine check-up. Make sure your doctor readily answers your questions and addresses any fears that you may have. While you’re lying on the table being examined, your gynecologist should be able to help you relax.
Pelvic Exam Anxiety
A lot of women fear the pelvic examination. For them it is a harsh invasion of their privacy. “Others view the pelvic exam as an indignity to their bodies. These feelings, though understandable, must be overcome,” according to The XYZ Guide to Young Women’s Health and Body (Women’s Media Circle Foundation, Inc., 1999).
Part of the fear comes from the invasive nature of the exam and the use of seemingly scary instruments such as the speculum. “A speculum is a [metal] instrument that enlarges the vaginal opening and spreads the vaginal walls so that your doctor can see what is going on inside the vagina,” according to the book.
The doctor will try to reassure you by lightly touching your leg or outer thigh before inserting the speculum. Generally, the doctor will ask you periodically during the exam if the procedure is causing any pain or discomfort. Make sure to speak out if there is.
After examining you with the speculum, the doctor will also perform a digital exam, which is an exam using the fingers of one hand while the other hand is placed outside, on top of your abdomen. This is done to look for any lumps or pain inside the abdomen.
All these procedures should be viewed just like you would a regular doctor’s check-up, and although the procedure is more intimate, the OB-gyne is a professional and you are a mature individual looking after her well-being. No sweat, right?
10 Relaxation Tips When You Make the Trip
1. Visit your doctor at least two weeks after your period ends. Your ob-gyne will have a clearer view of the inside of your vagina and it won’t be messy.
2. Relax, it makes things easier for both of you. When you’re tense, the vaginal muscles tighten, causing discomfort during examination. Try Kegel exercises: Tighten your pelvic muscles for a few seconds as if you were trying to control the flow of urine. Then release. Be aware of how it feels when your muscles are relaxed.
3. Be honest and don’t fret if your doctor asks about your sexual history or your current sexual lifestyle. This will help her zero in on certain parts of your body where she can check for signs of infection or disease.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. Get the doctor to explain to you what she is doing and why.
5. Don’t worry about how you’ll look and act. Doctors see breasts and vaginas daily and seeing one more should make no difference to them.
6. The OB-gyne always wears protective gloves during the examination for hygienic purposes. Also, they don’t mind if you request your companion or a female nurse to accompany you during the procedure.
7. Tell your doctor if the procedure hurts. It will let her know if she needs to add more lubricant or if she needs to do further tests to see why you feel pain in a certain area.
8. Tell your doctor if you notice anything unusual such as a constant itch, a burning sensation while urinating, or even severely painful menstrual cramps. These could be symptoms of an infection or disease.
9. Follow up your test results and go see your gynecologist again for an interpretation of these results.
10. Visit your gynecologist with your partner or husband. They are as involved in your reproductive health as you are.
(photo source: sxc.hu)