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By Stepheny Gehrig

We all know that vaginal health is important, yet coming vagina to face with a gynecologist is probably the most terrifying experience.

I just had my first gynecology appointment and pap smear in October 2020, and here’s what you can expect for your first visit.

The Rundown

Your appointment will start like a regular check-up. A nurse will greet you, take down your height, weight, and blood pressure, if you’re sexually active, when your last period was and if you are on any medication. The nurse will then give you a gown and a long cloth to cover and ask you to undress, wear the gown and use the long cloth to cover yourself.

Your doctor will talk you through everything and answer all your questions for your first visit. My doctor was very understanding, and I told her that I am terrified of getting checkups and shots. She went over what I should expect, what tools she would use and said she would talk me through the entire procedure.

The Tools

The doctor inserts a speculum to widen the vaginal canal so other tools can be used to do these checks. A speculum is about three inches long and either metal or plastic — the plastic ones are more comfortable because they aren’t as cold as the metal ones. Most vagina-owners said that they felt more pressure than pain. The pressure of the speculum feels like a large but mild cramp.

Your doctor will use a few different tools to grab some samples during the procedure. Mine used three different tools — a soft brush, a plastic spatula and a swab. The doctor will insert these tools one at a time and gently swirl them around to collect the samples. It felt uncomfortable and like a zip tie scratching the roof of your mouth, but with an added pinch. It wasn’t painful, just very uncomfortable.

The Emotions

Many people with vaginas put off seeing a gynecologist, even when they age into it. The typical age to start seeing one is at 21, but if you’re sexually active, doctors advise a visit to ensure that you’re safe and healthy. Since it’s such a taboo topic, and not many people divulge what happens during the procedure, putting off scheduling an appointment.

“I have been putting off going to the gyno for a long time. I have never been one to go to the doctor even for regular checkups. I am afraid that it will hurt,” said Kassie Vickers, a fifth-year political science major. “All of the knowledge I have on it has come from school, the internet or stories I have heard from friends.”

Experiencing this for the first time without previous knowledge of what would happen was very overwhelming. I didn’t know how to cope, from the anticipation of a 30-minute wait in the lobby to the adrenaline rush of ending the fifteen-minute procedure. I started crying afterward because it was a lot to take in.

“I felt good about myself,” said Gess Gomez, a third-year linguistics major. “I feel like from now on. I’ll feel more comfortable doing another pap smear. Once you have experienced something and it went well, I feel like you’ll be comfortable doing it again.”

The Advice

Make a morning appointment and go before you have breakfast — the pressure from the speculum might make you feel like you’ll poop on the doctor. Listening to music that pumps you up can also help boost your confidence heading into the appointment. Keeping an open dialogue with the nurse and the doctor in the room helped me understand what was being put into my body and know that the procedure was going well.

Gomez said she mentally prepares by focusing on the fact that the doctors only care about your health. She shared that staying focused on your breathing and asking questions can be a good way to ease your nerves.

“They told me step by step what they were going to do,” Gomez said. “Even if I had questions, I would ask them. I am a little bit shy, but if I want to know something, it’s better to ask.”

Gomez said that before the appointment, you should take a shower to help yourself be more confident. She said that since she feels more comfortable with a woman doctor, she asks for one and added that you should ask for a doctor with who you feel most comfortable at your appointment.

The doctors are here to help you feel safe and stay healthy; although this procedure is daunting, you’ll feel fierce after going through it.

“Everything’s going to go OK,” Gomez said reassuringly.