Summer vacation -- time off from school or work, lazy days spent at the beach, and maybe even steamy nights filled with the passion of a summer fling. If you're flirting with the idea of getting to know your summer love in an intimate way, you'll want to be prepared with more than a bottle of sunscreen.
Get that preparation from a gynecologist -- a doctor who specializes in women's reproductive health who can counsel you about how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Women over 18 should have a pelvic exam and Pap smear every year, and girls under 18 who are sexually active or thinking of becoming sexually active -- as well as teens who are having trouble with their periods -- should be examined by a doctor, too.
How does a woman find a gynecologist? "If she feels comfortable talking to her friends about this subject, word of mouth is always a good idea," says Traci Brooks, M.D., director of Adolescent Medical Services, Cambridge Health Alliance, in Cambridge, Mass. "It may not even need to be a gyn who does the exam -- many internists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and adolescent medicine specialists also routinely do gyn exams and tests. If your own provider is not comfortable performing pelvic exams, he or she may be able to refer you to someone who is. Often, patients can make a consult appointment and can go meet and speak with the provider before she has an exam done, to decide if she is comfortable."
Although either male or female providers can perform exams, some women feel more comfortable being examined by a woman.
Before a woman heads to the doctor's office, there isn't much she needs to do -- but there are a few things she should not do.
"A woman should not be on or just finishing her period, because the blood or use of a tampon can obscure test results. She should try not to have sex (especially without a condom) for 48 hours before the exam. Also, she should not douche for 48 hours as well -- again, both of these things can cloud the test results, especially the Pap smear. Of course, if she is having pain or foul-smelling discharge, she should be seen right away, regardless of any of the above," says Dr. Brooks. "Don't worry about not shaving, either your legs or your pubic hair. We providers don't think that's a big deal," she adds.