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Are you preparing to schedule your first pelvic exam, or haven’t had one in a while and are due? A pelvic exam can help you stay healthy and aware of how to take care of your body, but it can also be intimidating going into the exam room without knowing what’s in store.

A pelvic exam is pretty routine for women past 21 or who are sexually active and want to check for STDs. However, you can go several years between exams and forget what to expect.

Pelvic Exam Basics

When asking what is a pelvic exam, it is an examination of the pelvic area including genitals to make sure you are healthy. The actual exam itself takes about 10 minutes, but before that, you will need to answer some medical history and sexual history questions with a nurse or doctor.

Then, in the exam room, you will be asked to take off your clothes, put on a gown, and wait for the doctor or nurse practitioner who will conduct the actual exam. There can be a lot of information covered if it’s your first exam, so know that there are places you can learn more about sexual and reproductive health if you forget to ask certain questions.

1. Outer Examination 

The first part of a pelvic exam procedure generally involves the doctor asking a few more questions, telling you what to expect, and then conducting an inspection of your genitals (the vulva, labia, etc.) on the outside. You’ll lie back on the table, put your feet in stirrups, and the doctor will likely walk you through what they are doing.

If this is your first visit to a pelvic exam clinic, you should feel comfortable asking the doctor for a play-by-play of what they will do if they haven’t already been saying their procedure out loud. The outer exam is, like the next steps, to check for any possible signs of STDs, cysts, or concerning discharge.

2. Pap Smear

The pap smear is generally the most uncomfortable part, but also one of the most important in the pelvic exam procedure. This involves the insertion of a speculum, which will help open up the vaginal canal so the doctor can take a swab and look inside. The swab will be tested for STDs like HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer.

This portion of the exam is not very long but it can be surprising and even hurt for some patients. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any concerns about it so they can provide you with the proper care and help you through the process.

3. Bimanual

This part of the exam is where the doctor will, after removing the speculum, insert fingers into the vaginal canal and put pressure on your stomach and abdominal area to feel your organs like your uterus and fallopian tubes. This portion helps check for cysts or tumors, or any other abnormalities or possible areas of discomfort for you. 

Sometimes an exam will also include a rectal exam portion where the doctor will insert fingers into the rectum and check for the same issues mentioned above. But this is generally not performed unless you have expressed certain concerns or pain in that area.

The Perfect Pelvic Exam

A pelvic exam isn’t fun, but it should be something you feel prepared for and able to talk about with your doctor. Lots of places perform pelvic exams, so if you don’t feel you are going to receive proper care or your concerns are not being addressed, you can find the right doctor who will help you through the process. 

Generally, pelvic exams are quick and mostly painless. They help you know you’re body better and can help keep you safe. If you found this helpful in preparing for your next exam, keep reading for more good info.