Going to your gynecologist may feel uncomfortable. And if you’re nervous, chances are you may forget what information you need to get from the appointment. Well, you’re in luck! Here are questions that all women should be asking at their gynecologist appointments.
If you are sexually active, you should get tested for STI/STDs. STDs are common among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 20 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States. About half of these infections are in people between the ages of 15 and 24. STI/STDs are spread through all sexual behavior including oral, vaginal and anal.
Getting tested is the only way to truly identify an STI/STD because many do not cause symptoms you would notice. Medication can cure some STI/STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. With others like herpes, medication cannot cure it but can manage the symptoms. The national recommendation is to test for STI/STDs annually. Discuss with your gynecologist to see which STI/STDs you should be getting tested for.
How often you should see your gynecologist will depend on your current health conditions and medical history. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women between 21 and 29 years old to see their gynecologist for a Pap smear every three years. However, if your gynecologist will alert you if a more frequent appointment is needed based on results from your last Pap smear. In between appointments, Dr. Richardson from Harvard Medical School suggests, “Ask your doctor if you can email or call with any questions or problems.”
For women that have not received their first Pap smear, you can still visit the gynecologist when questions arise. The ACOG encourages women under the age of 21 to consider other reasons why they could benefit from a gynecologist appointment. Click here to read 21 Reasons to See a Gynecologist Before You Turn 21.
Women are told about the importance of breast examinations but often not about vulvar self-exams. The National Vulvodynia Association recommends performing the self-exam at the same time each month in between menstrual periods. Any changes should be reported to your gynecologist for further examination. New growths, changes in skin texture or color could be signs of infection, vulvar cancer or other conditions.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. Mayo Clinic explains, “Various strains of HPV spread through sexual contact and are associated with most cases of cervical cancer.” This vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if a girl or woman receives it before exposure to HPV. It is recommended that girls ages 11 or 12 receive the vaccine but not exclusively that age. Teens and young adults between 15 and 26 years old that get the vaccine should continue to receive three doses of vaccine.
The HPV vaccine does offer benefits if you are already sexually active. The virus has multiple strains, so if you are already infected with one strain, the vaccine can protect you from the other strains. The HPV vaccine cannot be used to treat an existing HPV infection. Talk to your gynecologist about how you can benefit from the vaccine and how to schedule the three doses if you are between 15 and 26 years old.
Birth control is used in a wide variety of situations, not exclusively for contraceptive reasons. Different methods of birth control can help regulate periods. Dr. Beverly Gray, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical center and director of the Ryan Family Planning Clinic explains, “Many women with irregular menstrual cycles may not be ovulating regularly. By manipulating their menstrual cycles with hormones, you can normalize cycles.”
Other non-contraceptive reasons to begin birth control include the following: decreasing acne and excessive body hair growth, reducing pain during periods, helping treat PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) and stopping your period. Consulting with your gynecologist will help determine if birth control is right for you. On your next visit, ask your gynecologist about the birth control options that you have.