What is a pelvic exam?
A pelvic exam is an examination of your reproductive organs to make sure everything is normal and healthy. Different health professionals, doctors, nurse practitioners (NPs), and physician's assistants (PAs), can do pelvic exams.
Because your reproductive organs are located deep inside your body, your health professional must look inside to examine them. That's why a pelvic exam is sometimes called an internal (inside) exam
. It's normal to feel self-conscious or nervous about having this kind of exam. It may help you to know that your health professional has seen lots of vaginas
, and sees this as a medical procedure and nothing more. Especially if this is your first pelvic exam, your health professional might try to help keep your mind off the exam itself by telling you a funny story or asking you some questions. Some health professionals' offices have cute or pretty decorations on the ceiling so you have something else to focus on. Most health professionals are sensitive to how their patients feel and will try their best to help you feel at ease. The whole exam takes only a few minutes, maybe 10 at the most, so even if you are a bit nervous, it'll be over quickly. back to top
When should I have my first pelvic exam?
In most cases, you will need to have a pelvic exam after you've begun to have sex or when you turn 18, whichever comes first. Your health professional may also want to give you a pelvic exam if you:
Who will be in the room with me?
- have cramps from your period that hurt so much that you miss school or other activities.
- have vaginal discharge that is unusual for you—thicker or with a strong smell. Most girls have some amount of discharge, which is a clear liquid that comes from your vagina.
- have pain in your lower belly that you can't explain.
- are sexually active and have missed a period. back to top
Before you even make your appointment, think about whether you will feel more comfortable with a male or female health professional. It would be a good idea to discuss this with your mom or older sister or an older friend if you can. If your health professional is male, he should have a female assistant in the room. If he doesn't, it's okay to ask for a nurse or assistant to come in during the exam. You should ask your health professional if he or she will talk with your parents about your visit. You have a right to expect that what you talk about with your health professional will be kept confidential. back to top
Does a pelvic exam hurt?
A pelvic exam is a bit uncomfortable, but you shouldn't have sharp pain. To make the exam as easy as possible, your health professional will be careful to use a smaller speculum
for young women and girls. If you are a virgin, you may feel a bit more discomfort because the opening to the vagina may be partially blocked by the hymen
. You cannot lose your virginity by having a speculum exam. You are a virgin until you have sexual intercourse. back to top
Do I need to fully undress for a pelvic exam?
Yes. The health professional will leave the room while you're taking your clothes off and will leave you with a sort of robe called a johnnie
. This will help keep you covered during the exam. There are a couple of different kinds of johnnies, so ask the health professional which way to put it on. You'll be glad to keep your socks on—at least your feet will stay warm! back to top
What happens before the health professional sees me?
A pelvic exam has two parts, the speculum exam
and the bimanual exam
. Here is what happens before the exam begins:
What happens during the exam itself?
- You lie on your back on the exam table.
- The health professional will cover your lower body and legs with a sheet.
- She or he will ask you to bend your knees and rest your feet in holders called stirrups. These might be covered with socks to make a comfortable place for your feet and help keep them warm.
- Your health professional will ask you to scoot your bottom down on the table toward her. When you feel like you are at the very edge of the exam table you'll be in the right position. back to top
These are the steps in the first part, the speculum exam:
- Your health professional uses a speculum to hold the walls of the vagina apart. The speculum is made of metal or plastic and comes in different sizes. If it's metal, the health professional will warm it up by running it under warm water or resting it on a heating pad. Your health professional will also be sure to use the smallest size that's right for you. The speculum that she uses will be clean and sterile. You can't catch a sexually transmitted disease by having a pelvic exam.
- The health professional will place the closed speculum into your vagina and open it. This feels weird, but it's usually not painful. The health professional can look through the speculum to see your cervix, which is the bottom of the uterus.
- Using a special brush or scraper, your health professional will take some cells from your cervix to test them for certain types of changes. That's called a pap smear, and it doesn't hurt; it just feels funny for a minute.
- Then your health professional will use a cotton swab to take a sample of vaginal discharge to check for an infection. back to top
The second part, the bimanual exam
, goes like this:
What happens after the exam?
- Your health professional puts lubricating jelly on two fingers of his or her gloved hand to make the exam more comfortable for you.
- She or he inserts two fingers into your vagina and puts the other hand on your lower belly. When the hands are gently brought together, your uterus and ovaries can be felt. She or he is checking for the size and shape of your uterus and feeling it is the best way to tell if everything is normal.
- You will feel a lot of pressure during this part, but you shouldn't feel any pain. back to top
After the exam, you may notice a little extra vaginal discharge or even a spot of blood. Don't worry—that's normal. Most health professionals' offices have pads in the bathroom for you to use after your exam. Feel free to take one.
Before you leave, your health professional will talk with you to answer your questions and explain any medications or birth control
you may receive. back to top
How often do I need to have a pelvic exam?
You will need to have a pelvic exam once every year. back to top
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