Some women hate going to the gynecologist. An ob-gyn visit means there must something wrong with them, they fret. Surely, invasive questioning and uncomfortable exams lie ahead.
Well, not me. I love going to the gynecologist.
It's not because I just happen to have an awesome ob-gyn. I've lived in three different states in the last year and have seen a number of different gynecologists, each time emerging from a new office just as thrilled and comforted as I had been at the last one. It's really not specific doctors that I love. It's just the magical feeling of visiting a vagina expert and learning all about the inner workings of my body.
When I visit the gynecologist, I'm confused about something going on down south. While even alluding to such problems would probably make anyone else cringe, anything goes at the ob-gyn. I get to explain exactly what's going on and what I'm feeling without any fear of judgment. It's their job to listen to all the gritty details. On top of that, I usually ask a ton of questions: What's this weird squishy stuff? Is this smell normal? Is it safe to do this without that? Tell me the truth, doc: Am I sleeping with too many people?!
The nature of genital health necessarily relates to what's happening in your romantic life. That means going to the gynecologist doubles as an opportunity to discuss other types of health, too — your relationship health, and more broadly, the health of your social and personal life. Where else is it completely appropriate to ask a medical expert about advice on bringing up STDs during one-night stands, or whether you're too laissez faire in bed with strangers, or whether your boyfriend is taking advantage of you physically? (Gynecologists are even specifically trained to look out for signs of domestic abuse.)
There are things I discuss with my gynecologist that I don't talk about with anyone else in my life — not my mom, not my partners, nobody. Sometimes I voice thoughts in my gyno's office that I had never even said out loud before. And I'm hardly alone in that. "I have women who come out [as gay] in my office — the first time they ever do," said Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a practicing ob-gyn in New York. "They say, 'Oh my god, I'm so relieved.' This is unique to us."
That's exactly how the relationship between ob-gyn and patient is supposed to be. It's just an incredible relief to know there's a medical professional looking out for me in this deeply personal way, ready to answer my questions and come to my rescue if I need it.
But of course, not all women share these warm, fuzzy feelings for their gyno. Far from it.
I have a handful of female friends in their mid-twenties who have never visited an ob-gyn. There's a million and one excuses for it: Some tell me there's nothing wrong with them, so why bother going? Others cite their personal circumstances — they've been in a monogamous relationship for years, or they're not sexually active, so they don't need to worry about STDs. Others fear the discomfort of an exam. And for many women who come from a more conservative background (like I do), perhaps there's also some fear of people making assumptions about their sexual experience.
For instance: At a recent appointment, I decided on a whim to publicly document my gynecological visit via Snapchat story — no nudity or anything like that, of course. Just what the experience was like for me. In brief: exciting, reassuring, and totally empowering.
While many friends cheered me on ("You go, girl!"), another sent me a particularly upsetting message: "Girl, you're breaking my heart," she wrote. "God wants more for you."
You don't need to be a serious Catholic like me to get the implication there. A culture that often shames women for embracing their sexuality can also easily dissuade them from maintaining good bodily health.
But let's be clear: Not everyone who sees an ob-gyn is going because they're having a ton of sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends women start getting tested for cervical cancer regularly at age 21, regardless of whether they've had sex or not. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists actually suggests girls have their first visit to an ob-gyn between ages 13 and 15. ACOG recommends they subsequently visit once a year just for regular checkups and preventative screening (sometimes called the "well woman exam," which is covered under many health insurers).
I go in way more often than once a year. I get checked for STDs after I've been with a certain number of new partners, usually every three or four months, which makes me either respectably responsible or vaguely germophobic. And any time I'm feeling anything weird down there, I don't hesitate to phone an on-call nurse at the women's center I go to or to schedule an actual appointment to get checked out. And every time I walk out of the gyno's office, I feel totally reassured and even cheerful about my body and my health. I feel in control of my life.
There's nothing better than peace of mind. Or conversely, there's nothing worse than sitting around and just wondering what's going on, praying what you're feeling is normal. Knowledge relieves you from that nagging fear — and the search for that knowledge is what will prevent any actual medical issues from slipping by unnoticed.
My gynecologist never fails to make me feel safe, supported, and powerful. If you haven't seen yours in a while — or have never seen one — go schedule an appointment! Think of it not as a scary, dirty exercise but rather a fun and uplifting experience: Your body will certainly thank you in the long run, and you might even find a much-needed confidante, like I do every time I step into an ob-gyn's office. And what girl couldn't use a total medical professional as a trusted BFF?