Whether you’re getting an annual exam or a “what the heck is going on down there?” check-up, a visit to your OB/GYN can bring up a lot of emotions: nerves, awkwardness, and even relief when you discover that your weird symptoms aren’t a big deal. But one thing you should never feel, no matter how much your inner sixth-grader needles you, is embarrassment. The gyno’s office is a safe, understanding, and caring place, and when it comes to lady-parts drama, your doc has seen and heard it all—trust.
“We’re a confidential source and ear,” says Maria Keating, MD, an OB/GYN at Drexel Obstetrics & Gynecology in Philadelphia, PA. Sure, the thought of discussing the state of your vagina with a relative stranger may make you cringe, but Dr. Keating stresses it’s a much better option than consulting Dr. Google. “[The gynecologist’s office] is a non-judgmental environment,” she adds.
Comforting, right? While you await the opportunity to spill all at your next appointment—since you should always consult with your own MD regarding your personal health—check out the answers to some hard-to-ask questions that OB/GYNs get on the reg. Hopefully they’ll ease the stress around some of your own queries. And, at the very least, you’ll be reassured to know that you’re not the only one wondering whether your discharge/vulva/sex habits are normal. (Spoiler alert: They probably are.)
Read on for answers to all the gynecological questions you’ve been dying to ask.
1. Can I see my OB/GYN while I’m on my period?
And if your pap comes back abnormal and you’re returning for a colposcopy or biopsy, you also can’t be menstruating, Dr. Park says. Otherwise, it’s fair game—your doctor definitely won’t be fazed if he or she catches a glimpse of blood during your appointment.
2. Does it matter if I do or don’t shave/groom/wax before my visit?
Definitely not! Your personal grooming has no effect on your exam or check-up, Dr. Keating says.
3. What are those bumps down there? Should I be worried?
Intimate bumps happen. Sometimes they disappear on their own—typically, this happens with acne, folliculitis (AKA ingrown hairs), and benign skin tags—but sometimes they don’t. Dr. Park says those that stick around could be ulcerative lesions and it’s best to get them checked out. If the bumps are irregular in shape, discolored, or bleeding at all, that’s another cause for a powwow with an expert.
4. Does my vagina smell normal?
Every woman has a vaginal smell, and unless it’s strongly unpleasant, you shouldn’t stress about it. If you notice a “fishy” scent, Dr. Park says it could be bacterial vaginosis (BV), which your OB/GYN can diagnose and clear up with antibiotics. “It usually happens when the pH balance is off in your vagina,” she explains. (Fun fact: If the vaginal microbiome is disrupted, chemicals called amines are produced, which is where the odor comes from.)
5. Can I talk to my OB/GYN about abortion?
Absolutely. Even if the practice you visit doesn’t perform abortions or dispense the medication to terminate a pregnancy, your OB/GYN can and should be able to talk to you about all things related to the matter—and that includes providing referrals, Dr. Keating says.
6. Should we discuss anal sex?
You should feel confident telling your doctor about all aspects of your sex life—not just the ones that involve your vagina—because it’s important to understand the health and safety concerns associated with getting busy, says Dr. Park. The number-one thing you should know about anal sex: Bacteria from your rectum should not be in your vagina, so you should avoid going back and forth between the two.
Plus, talking about anal sex with your OB/GYN gives them a more complete picture of your history, which allows them to consider potential STDs and other risks. For example, says Dr. Keating, HPV can also be transmitted anally. So if you come back with an abnormal pap, this could be the reason.
7. Can I have sex during pregnancy?
This question gets asked a heck of a lot, and the answer is: Yes. “With a few exceptions, like a high-risk pregnancy, you can continue to be sexually active throughout pregnancy,” Dr. Keating says.
But of course, if you’re pregnant and experiencing pain or bleeding during sex, you should consult your OB/GYN immediately.
8. Is my vaginal discharge normal?
“Until you go through menopause, you’re supposed to have vaginal discharge,” Dr. Park proclaims. That said, these fluids can vary depending on the time of month and whether or not you’re on birth control. Around the time of ovulation, the cervical mucus will almost look like an egg white. At other times, it may have more of a liquid consistency.
But, again, your discharge shouldn’t smell foul—this could be a sign of an STI. Chunky, cottage-cheese-like discharge that’s accompanied by burning and itching is most likely a yeast infection, says Dr. Park. Your OB/GYN will be able to tell exactly what the issue is and how to take care of it.
9. Why does sex hurt for me?
Bottom line: Sex should never be painful, says Dr. Keating. There are lots of reasons why you might be experiencing discomfort, but it could be something as “simple” as being in an uncomfortable position or not being lubricated enough. Conversely, the pain could be stemming from a medical condition such as endometriosis or fibroids, Dr. Park says. Either way, it’s important to speak with your doctor to figure out the root cause. (He or she may even recommend cannabis to make sex a little bit steamier.)
10. What is my vulva “supposed” to look like?
There’s no right answer to this question: Your vulva, like you, is unique, and looks just like it’s supposed to. Some women have curly pubic hair, while for others, it’s straight; some women have “flappier” vulvas while others have a smaller, more “compact” appearance. “The way we look physically is different for everybody,” says Dr. Park. So appreciate yours for all of its high-vibe magic, even if it doesn’t look exactly like the ones you’ve seen in the movies.
11. Why is my libido so damn low?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” says Dr. Keating, adding that a variety of factors can lead to a dip in your sex drive. Hormone levels, thyroid issues, and other changes in the endocrine system could be part of the reason, as well as emotional, mental, and relationship problems.
Age also plays a role. When your estrogen levels drop off during menopause it can affect your libido, says Dr. Park. And since there’s no female equivalent of Viagra, there’s no one thing that “fixes” a low libido in women. That’s why it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your doctor (and/or sex therapist) if hooking up starts to feel like a chore, rather than the healthy hobby it really is. Remember: A weekly roll in the hay keeps the doctor away.
Still stumped about something happening between the sheets? Check out a sex educator’s answers to some common questions about getting it on. And here’s the truth about what’s better for your health: Cardio vs. sex.
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