Chances Are You’re Focusing on All the Wrong Things at Your Gyno Exams

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When you wake up on the day of your annual gyno appointment, do you spend some extra time showering or prepping? If you said yes, you're not alone. A recent survey found that nearly 70 percent of women spend more time getting ready in the morning for their annual exam than they normally do — seven minutes more, on average.

As important as it is to feel good for your exam, bestselling author and women's demographic expert Melanie Notkin says we're missing the point.

Between the extra prepping, the awkward gown, the cold doctor's office and wondering if we have time to pee before our gynecologist enters the room, Notkin says that we're distracted. We're not asking ourselves (or our doctors) the right questions when the big day arrives.

MORE: 6 Thoughts Every Woman Has Had at the Gyno

Instead of wondering if we should keep our socks on or off in the stirrups, we should be preparing important questions about our health.

"Maybe we should be writing a list of things that we should be there with so that we are prepared — but the survey found that women aren't doing that," Notkin said in an interview. "They have good intentions, there's no doubt. But put them in the room, put them in the stirrups and they'd rather be talking about the TV show they saw the other night."

In fact, 25 percent of us would rather not talk about the results of our yearly exam.

So what kind of questions should we be asking? Dr. Aimee Holland, a women's health nurse practitioner, recommends checking into your family history.

"It seems like women maybe would find out more about their family history, look into seeing what screenings are necessary for your visit, and write down their questions they have for their health care provider," Holland said. "But that's not the case based on the survey. We learned that women have good intentions, but only about 40 percent follow through and ask those important questions."

But let's back up. What if we don't even know what kind of exam we need to schedule? Holland says every woman, no matter her age, needs to see a gynecologist, especially when it comes to the cervical cancer screening exam.

"First and foremost, I want everyone to know: You need a women's health exam, no matter how old you are," Holland said. "But one of the most important exams and screenings that a woman will have through her life is the cervical cancer screening exam."

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"Women 21 years of age to 29 need a pap test every three years. Women 30-65 need a pap test plus HPV together every 5 years. We know that cervical cancer screenings save women's lives."

And if the only thing holding you back from scheduling your exam is the fact that you're intimidated, or might wonder what your doctor will think if you ask a "stupid" question, you should think again.

"Here's the thing: There are no stupid questions," Notkin said. "There's no original content. There's no story that you're bringing to your health care provider that it probably didn't hear two patients before you."

If you're still unsure where to start, check out healthywomen.org to see what kind of questions you should be asking about your reproductive health.

As Notkin says, "it's up to you to save your life."

"It's up to us. We as women have to go in and ask those questions. There's nobody who cares more about your health than you."

If not for yourself, Notkin urges, do it for someone you love.

"Do it for your sister, your mother, your aunt, your nieces, all the women in your life who you love and care about," she says. "Make sure they're doing it too, make sure your best friend goes with you and she does it too."

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