It’s that time of year again, time to face that little appointment that’s been haunting your calendar for months. If you’re anything like me the most dreaded day of the year is one that involves waiting for at least 20 minutes in a sterol waiting room, followed by having to wear an awkward backless “gown”, ending in the utter humiliation that is a pap smear. Yes, that’s right ladies, I’m talking about the yearly visit to the gynecologist.
My gyno is a fast talker. She rattles off all kinds of uncomfortable questions including how many people in total I’ve slept with. I lie of course, because she is the same woman who delivered me and well frankly, she’s judgmental and would assume that I’m a whore. In the midst of my lies she continues on with her usual routine. By the time she has to use that steely torture device, which by the way is always ice cold, her questions have turned to who I’m currently sleeping with. No matter what I say she will always reply with her opinion that men at “your age” are untrustworthy and unable to be monogamous. Uncomfortable and ready to leave I dress quickly and when it’s time for her to say, “Looks great, any questions?” I say “No.” and run for the door. I’m going to tell you why this entire scenario is wrong as well as 5 ways to ensure you are having a productive experience.
A common problem that all people, not just women, share is something called White Coat Syndrome. This phenomenon usually refers to the change in patients blood pressure. In Women’s Studies we discuss it as a patient’s blind trust in what their physician is telling them, or the inability to ask important questions concerning your body due to either intimidation or your doctor’s busy schedule. If I don’t feel comfortable with my doctor, or feel that she is talking to down to me, how am I supposed to ask her anything important? I feel inferior and pushed along which doesn’t help me or anyone else. Every question you have concerning your body is an important one. We need to educate ourselves on the functions of your bodies and the conditions which we are susceptible to.
Another problem with my experience is that asking a patient’s number of sexual partners has absolutely no relevance unless she has and STD/STI. It makes for an uncomfortable situation and only adds to an intimidated feeling. Also, when my doctor talks over her procedure she’s not letting me know exactly what she’s doing. By not explaining the exam fully I remain uneducated and in the dark about my own body. Instead of taking the time to ask questions I get nervous and run. This is possibly the WORST thing anyone can do at the doctor’s office.
So let’s fix this, shall we? First thing’s first,
- Prepare Questions: Your body may undergo many changes in the span of a year so make sure if you come across something that worries you but is not an emergency you write it down. Preparing questions for your physician before your appointment can not only give you piece of mind but can help your doctor catch something that he/she may have overlooked previously.
Example: For the past couple of months I would become extremely uncomfortable and almost sick during and the week after my period ended. When I finally told my doctor what was happening she informed me that I am allergic to scented tampons and that if I didn’t stop using them I could get a serious infection. I switched brands and could not be happier – all because I asked.
- Set Boundaries: If at anytime your physician makes you feel uncomfortable speak up about it. Let him or her know that certain questions are unfair to ask, allow him or her to explain themselves but still stand your ground. If at anytime you realize that you and your doctor are not on the same page do not hesitate to find a new one!
- Get the Real Scoop on Birth Control: Birth control commercials and ads are all over the media. These ads will inform you of all the wonders of these seemingly magic little pills, but what are they not telling you that your doctor actually can? Before you decide to use birth control make sure you get all of the facts including the major side effects. Also, don’t let yourself be pressured into using any of these methods. Many times, doctors will insist that sexually active young women take the pill, the shot, or use the IUD because “nothing is worse than a young pregnancy”. There is nothing wrong with using condoms, as long as you actually use them every time.
- Discuss What’s Important: As I’ve stated above, there is no shame in asking questions. For your own education make sure you discuss big issues with your doctor. Start with breast lumps and how you can check for them at home. As we all know breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women and conducting regular self checks is a great way to ensure the health of your breasts. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is another big topic. Although there are little to no side effects for men infected, in women certain strands of this virus can lead to cervical cancer. The Gardasil vaccine only protects from a few strands but not all. Be sure that you understand exactly how this virus can spread so that you can protect yourself from it.
- GET TESTED: No matter if you’ve slept with one person or seventy one be sure to get tested regularly to prevent the spread of STD/STI’s as well as obtain any treatment you may need.
You have the right to know everything about your body and how to protect it. As awkward and terrible as those appointments may be for you they are of incredible importance to your health.