Although you probably dread the thought of getting in the stirrups (do you keep your socks on?! or take them off?!), you really should place some weight of importance on your yearly trip to the gyno. It's your chance to ask questions and let your body be attended to. The human body is a fine-tuned machine, but having the expert's opinion on it can help you stay informed and stay healthy.
Dr. Cherrell Triplett, an obstetrician and gynecologist practicing in Indianapolis, strives to have her patients be aware of their bodies, and never be afraid to ask questions. Triplett suggested a few things that women should keep in mind before getting in the stirrups.
1. You may not need the pap as often as you think. While it is always important to constantly check in with your body (is this normal, is this not?), you probably don't need to get in the stirrups as often as you think. The latest screening guidelines suggest that women ages 21-29 receive a pap test every three years. For older women, ages 30-65, pap tests and HPV screenings are recommended for every three to five years.
2. But "you're more than a cervix". You should still see your gynecologists regularly, however. Even if you don't receive a pap test, your doctor will still check your breasts for lumps, take your blood pressure, and talk about other health screenings you may need. And leading up to your appointment, it is important to consider what your "normal state of being" is and be prepared with any questions you may have. This is a confidential moment between you and your doctor; an opportunity to ask and learn.
>> Read more: How Often Should You Really Have a Pap Smear?
3. Just because you have HPV doesn't mean you're promiscuous. HPV (human papillomavirus) is so common that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) states that "nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives." HPV usually goes away on its own — when it doesn't, it can cause genital warts and cancer. Dr. Triplett said that's why "HPV testing is now recommended for women over 30 in an effort to detect the high-risk HPV strains that could develop into cancer."
4. Being shy won't help you. Gynecologists can only do their job correctly when they are informed — keeping something hidden will only hurt you. Gynecologists are not fools... they know it is an anxious encounter for you. "Oftentimes, there are not symptoms for many problems that could be easily treated," Dr. Triplett said. "So just relax and ask questions. There is no reason to be embarrassed." Another thing that too many women stress over? Waxing. "Don't let things like that cause you anxiety," continued Triplett. Gynecologists, by definition, want nothing other than for their patients to be healthy and comfortable.
5. Be thorough. Dr. Cherrell Triplett's last recommendation was to never leave the room without asking all of your questions. If you get home and think of something else to ask about, follow up with a phone call. And continue to stay in tune with your body. Dr. Triplett pointed out that "as women, we have the advantage of having a menstrual cycle... a lot of women wouldn't call it that, but I would. A lot of our symptoms may correlate to different moments within our cycles. Keep track of one of your cycles and all of the things you experience during that cycle." This will help you assess what is normal for your body and what isn't. When something isn't normal, your gynecologist will be the first person to provide medical advice.