Your First Pelvic Exam: What to Expect

Health Writer

The first gynecological exam is a scary experience. You aren't sure what to expect and someone will be not only examining but probing your most private areas. But it is recommended that all women over the age of 21 have annual gynecological exams, this age is younger if you are sexually active.

Some of the other reasons you may need to visit a gynecologist include:

While this may be a new experience, knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help yo relax and can ease some of your nervousness.

What to Know Before the Exam

Your exam should be scheduled when you don't have your period. Ideally, you should not have any bleeding for 3 days prior to the exam (unless of course bleeding is the reason you are going to the doctor). For 24 hours prior to your exam you should refrain from sexual intercourse using a condom, douching, using a tampon or using any medications in your vagina.

If you are going to the doctor because of a specific medical need, be sure to write down your symptoms and any questions you may have before you go. If this is your first visit to a gynecologist you are sure to be nervous and it is easy to forget what you want to ask. Having a list of questions should help you get all the information you need before leaving the doctor's office.

Some people find that emptying their bladder immediately before the exam makes it more comfortable.

Be sure to bring insurance information with you to the doctor's office.

What Happens During a Gynecological Exam

Just like when you visit your medical doctor, you will be given a private examining room. You will be asked to undress and will be given an examination gown and a sheet to drape over your legs. The examination table has footrests at the end of the table, called stirrups. During the examination you will need to slide to the end of the table and put your feet in the stirrups. There is often a lamp at the end of the table for use during the examination.

When your doctor comes in the room, he or she will ask you questions about your overall health as well as your sexual health. If you are having any problems or have any concerns, you should talk with your doctor about these. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, tell your doctor before the physical examination begins.

Your doctor will first examine the external genitalia. Next, a plastic speculum is inserted into your vagina. This tool holds open the vagina so the doctor can see your cervix. This is inserted gently and slowly although you may feel a little bit of pressure. If you have pain, tell your doctor right away. Many women find that taking deep breaths while the speculum is inserted helps them relax; the more nervous and tight you hold your body, the more difficult it is to insert the speculum.

Next, your doctor will use a cotton swab, brush or flat stick to take some cells from your cervix. This is called a Pap smear. The cells are examined in a laboratory for signs of abnormalities. This helps detect any precancerous cells. Once this is completed, the doctor will remove the speculum.

The doctor will do a digital exam, with one hand inside the vagina and one on your abdomen. The doctor uses this to detect any growths, swellings or areas that are tender. Your doctor will also examine your breasts and should explain and show you how to complete a breast self-exam, which should be done monthly at home.

After the Exam

Once the physical examination is over, your doctor will leave the room so you can get dressed. He or she will return in a few minutes to discuss the finding of the exam and answer any questions you may have. You should be told when you can expect the results of your Pap smear. You should be advised when the doctor wants to see you again. This is generally once a year, however, if your doctor detected any potential problems she may want to have you come in for a follow-up visit.


"Pelvic Exam at a Glance," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Planned Parenthood

"Your First Gynecological Exam," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, SUNY Geneseo