How To Prepare for a Gynecologist Appointment

These five tricks will help you be prepared and feel less stressed.

Few people look forward to their annual visit to the gynecologist

Like flossing, shaving, and entertaining your in-laws, you see the gynecologist because you have to. But that doesn't mean you should dread the crucial checkup. 

Here's what you should know about preparing for the gynecologist so you can have a comfortable, stress-free visit. 

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Be Patient Number One

Waiting is never fun. But waiting for an unpleasant event is even worse.

And if you're gynecologist is a woman, "the wait might be longer because patients tend to open up more to women," said Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. and author of A Woman's Guide to Sexual Health.

To shorten your wait and get the most face time with your healthcare provider, schedule several months in advance, recommended Dr. Minkin.

That way, you can ask for the first appointment in the morning or for a slot directly after lunch. And make sure your postlunch selection is on a non-surgery day, said Vicki Rackner, MD, founder of the physician-led firm Engaging Doctors. 

"A lot of gynecologists have operative mornings," explained Dr. Rackner, "and if an operation lasts longer than expected, all the afternoon appointments will be late."

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Enjoy the Wait

If you have to wait, enjoyably use the time to relax any nerves. 

"Bring something that relaxes you," said Winnie King, MD, board-certified healthcare provider and owner of Winnie King, MD Aesthetics and Wellness. "It can be a humorous book or calming music. The goal is to avoid getting more stressed out as time passes."

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Dress To Undress

What's the best-undressed patient at the gynecologist's office wearing this season? Knee socks. 

"Socks are the one thing you don't have to take off, and knee socks can help you keep warm if the exam room is cold," said Dr. Minkin. 

Wear comfortable clothing you can get out of easily. Tuck a pair into your purse and forget the lace-up boots and the intricate body shaper. 

Also, if you're having a mammogram before or after your Pap test, "wear a top and skirt or pants," said Dr. King. "That way, you can remove just your top for the test."

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Don't Overdo the Prep

Understandably, many fixate on cleaning and grooming themselves before an annual exam. However, there's no need to go overboard. 

"Too much cleaning, like douching, can negatively affect exams like the Pap test," said Dr. King. 

Douching washes away the cells your healthcare provider needs to examine. You may have to come in for another Pap test in those cases. So, take your routine shower (using soap is fine) and avoid powders in the genital area. 

There's also no need for waxing. Your gynecologist checks down there to ensure you're healthy and not judge your wax job.

And what if you have vaginal sex the night before? Well, it depends.

Typically, healthcare providers collect cells from your cervix with a brush, dunk the brush into a liquid medium, and then spin the liquid so everything extraneous washes away.

But sometimes, according to one study published in 2022 in Cytojournal, semen can obscure your Pap test results. Sperm can distort how cells appear on the slides that your healthcare provider examines to ensure you're healthy, so it may help to abstain from vaginal sex the night before your appointment.

Either way, if you think you'll be embarrassed, hold off on sex or use a condom.

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Take Notes

To help your gynecologist help you—and to ensure you don't forget to bring up that nagging vaginal itch—make a list of questions or concerns, current medications and supplements, and any new drug allergies or medical issues. 

And be clear about what you want from the exam. Do you want a diagnosis? Simple information? Or, if you're experiencing a complicated health issue, do you just want to know that someone is on your side? It's your job to set the agenda.

Jot down the provider's answers, too. Dr. Rackner added that it's understandably difficult to remember what's being said during an appointment.

If you're a visual learner, ask your healthcare provider to write down the necessary info or even draw a picture. If you learn by listening, bring along a tape recorder. And if you learn by doing, ask your healthcare provider to watch and comment as you, for example, give yourself a breast exam.

Summary

All in all, getting your concerns out in the open will likely ease your mind, whether it's strange smells, weird gastrointestinal symptoms, or sex issues. And rest assured that your gynecologist has heard it all before. 

So, you want to know about vaginal versus clitoral orgasms? Where is your G-spot? How might perimenopause affect your libido? 

"It's absolutely appropriate to ask," explained Dr. King. "Some [healthcare providers] will feel comfortable answering the questions, and some will refer you to a sex therapist to address more-serious issues or concerns."

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