Until very recently, I was under the impression that there was no "right way" to go about my visits to the gyno. I mean, how complicated could it be? I open my legs up wide, she examines me for a bit, I answer some questions about who I have or haven't been boinking and BOOM, the awkward 15 minutes that felt more like 57 years are over.
Well, it turns out there's an easy way for me to be getting a lot more out of my visits. How, you ask? The answer is simple my friend: BY ASKING QUESTIONS.
I interviewed Nancy Beth Lebowitz, MD, F.A.C.O.G., clinical instructor at Cornell Medical School and Assistant Attending Physician at Weill Cornell, about what women should be asking our gynecologists when we go in for our annual exams.
And, boy-oh-boy, did she provide us with a comprehensive list.
I know what you're thinking: "But my doctor already asks me about a million questions... WTF am I supposed to be asking?"
"Your doctor will usually probe for things, but if you're asking, you're being more proactive about making sure these they get covered," Dr. Lebowitz says.
In other words, by asking the right questions, you're making sure all of your bases are covered and you're taking charge of your sexual health.
"The initial exam is always easy. We're going to go through everything," Lebowitz explains. "But when you come back, it's really your responsibility to say, 'Hey, the following changes have occurred in my family history, my medication, my sex life, etc.'"
Here's a list of eight questions straight from Dr. Lebowitz you should be absolutely certain to consult before your next visit to the gyro:
My period's kind of irregular. What kind of test should I get to look into that?
Once you bring this up, your doctor will ask you more questions to hone in on what exactly the problem is (is it mechanical, hormonal or an infection?).
A regular menstrual period is a sign of good health, so any sort of irregularity should be brought up to your doctor.
My partner and I are doing [insert all sexual activities]... What kind of testing do you recommend?
Stop being so shy! This isn't your mom or your third grade religion teacher. This is your gyno, ladies.
"We need to know everything. Not just that you're sexually active. We need to know in what ways," says Dr. Lebowitz.
A common problem she runs into is patients assuming that just because they're engaging in vaginal intercourse with condoms, they're completely safe from contracting STDs — even if they are still engaging in oral sex without condoms.
As Dr. Lebowitz explains,
Even if you're only having oral sex, you can still get STDs. You should really make an effort to say, 'Look, I'm engaging in the following sexual activities.' Really cover everything from oral sex to intercourse to anal sex, so your doctor can advise you on what kind of sexual testing you need.
Bottom line: I don't care if you're having sex with condoms, anal sex with no condoms, oral or no sex at all... JUST KEEP YOUR GYNO IN THE LOOP.
I have not gotten the Gardasil vaccine for HPV. Do you think I should get it?
Some doctors, like Dr. Lebowitz, will be sure to ask you if you've gotten this vaccine already, but there are lots of doctors who will just ASSUME you've already gotten it.
Don't wait around for your doctor to ask! Be upfront and honest, and ask what they think you should do.
I am experiencing pain during intercourse. What kind of testing should I get done for this?
It's easy to just brush off a little mid-boink pain as NBD. I mean, maybe your boyfriend is just SO well hung. Or maybe you just haven't been using enough lube. Or, perhaps you just have a low pain tolerance!
It really might be NBD after all, but you still need to bring this up to your gyno just to be 100 percent certain.
My mother recently got diagnosed with breast cancer. That's a change in my family history. Should I have some sort of testing?
This is a question I, personally, would have never even thought to ask.
Let's be honest: If my mom was diagnosed with cancer, the last thing I would be thinking about would be calling my gyno to fill her in.
But it turns out, she's probably one of the first people I should be calling.
"A lot of patients will come in the first time and give us their history and assume that's it," Dr. Lebowtiz explains, "but you need to keep us up to date on any changes."
I'm on these [insert new medication]. What implications do they have for my gynecological health?
Even if you're on medications you think have literally nothing at all to do with your sexual health, you NEED to be keeping your gyno up-to-date on them. Dr. Lebowitz explains:
Certain medications might affect how your body deals with STDs. For example, if you get put on steroids for a diagnosis of Lupus or bad asthma, now, if you get HPV, it's going to be difficult to get rid of. Your gynecologist needs to know that so he or she can better treat you.
Seriously, did you know this? Because I sure as shit didn't.
I'm not in a monogamous relationship anymore. What kind of test should I have done?
If my boyfriend of 10 years — whom I was sure would be the father of my children — and I had just broken up, my gyno wouldn't necessarily be on the top of my list of people to call.
But, whether you like it or not, she needs to be kept in the loop. Whether she asks during your next visit or not, it is YOUR responsibility to inform her of the change and ask what sort of new measures you should be taking to ensure your vagina is happy and healthy with it's new single status.
I was not sexually active, but now I am. What kind of testing should I have done?
This goes along the same lines as the last one: Even if your gyno isn't your BFF you want to call up as soon as your V-card gets swiped, you need to put her up there.
In fact, ANY change in your sexual life is important for them to know.
I'm gaining or losing weight. What should I do about that?
This doesn't really seem like something you'd go to your gyno for, right? Maybe a friend, a Jenny Craig specialist, a trainer at the gym or even your general practitioner.
But Dr. Lebowitz encourages you to consult with your gynecologist before doing any of that, as the problem could possibly be the result of something hormonal, such as a thyroid disease.
I'm feeling depressed or anxious. What should I do about that?
Lots of times, we can get depressed, and our first instinct is to go to a psychologist or a therapist. While those are both great options, Dr. Lebowitz suggests throwing your gyno into that mix as well.
Similar to the weight change, things like this could be due to hormonal problems or fluctuations.
OK, now take screenshots of this list! Write all of these questions down in your notes! Print them out, and keep them in your back pocket!
This is important, girlfriend. It's for your HEALTH.
Read more from our Sex ED series.