Five Steps To An Easier Pelvic Exam
Taking Care Of All Your Parts Is A Gift To Yourself and Everyone Who Loves You.
We know. We all know. We’re supposed to get periodic pelvic exams (every year or every two years) even when everything is going great with that part of our body. We’re supposed to get an exam even more frequently if we have a history of abnormal paps or are having problems such as unusual bleeding, pain or discharge.
But a pelvic exam is not anyone’s idea of a picnic, and for many of us, who don’t identity with these bits, don’t feel connected to them or who have suffered sexual trauma, it’s our idea of a nightmare. A few ways to make this essential part of healthcare a little teeny bit easier:
1. Take a friend with you. Or a partner. Or an ex. Or the ex of an ex. This person doesn’t actually need to be the person who is closest to you. You just want someone who is supportive and can hold your hand, make jokes, play with the plastic models in the waiting area and generally help you relax until it’s time to go in the little room.
2. Ask to talk with the provider when you still have your street clothes on. You might assume that’s the way it’s going to go down. After all, who greets someone naked? That’s a play party thing, not a healthcare thing. Yet, in busy clinics it can happen that the medical assistant or nurse will do all the prep and you first meet your provider when you’re wearing that barely covering anything gown. Address this question with the receptionist when you check in.
3. Speaking of the gown, you know you don’t have to wear that, right? The provider needs access to your below parts and also your chest. If the gown messes with your ability to get a pelvic exam, bring in an oversized button-up flannel shirt (don’t even try and pretend you don’t have one) and wear that. Explain your plan to the provider or whoever hands you the gown.
4. When you are having your pre-exam chat with the provider (which, again, should be with your clothes on) you can coach them about the words you prefer when you talk about your parts. If using terms like bits, junk, and chest make you more comfortable than the biological descriptions that medical folks usually employ, it’s in everyone’s best interest to use those words. If you have a history of any kind of trauma that might affect your ability to cooperate with the exam, tell the provider that as well. You don’t have give them details, you can just mention that it’s sometimes a challenge and explain to the provider if there is anything they can do to help you relax.
5.. If the most difficult aspect of a pelvic exam is the insertion of the speculum, ask the provider about using the smallest one or even a youth size. If the clinic uses a metal speculum (which can be more effective in visualizing the cervix for some people) the provider can run it under hot water to warm it up. You can also ask to insert the speculum yourself, if this makes it easier for you.
After the speculum has been inserted, keep breathing in through your nose, out through your mouth. Some folks like to pretend they are somewhere else, preferably somewhere pleasant. I picture myself at the library because I’m a nerd like that, but visualizing yourself at the beach or having brunch with a big group of your friends might be better for you. Once the speculum is in, the process should only a be a minute or two more.
Once you’re done, give yourself a big huge pat on the back and ask your pal who came with you to do the same. It’s not fun, but in a patriarchal world, taking care of all your parts is a revolutionary act. It’s also a huge gift for yourself, your community and all the people who love you.