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What Is a Pelvic Exam? Will I Need One If I Want Birth Control?

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A pelvic exam is something done by a doctor or nurse. Pelvic exams can be used for STI screening or to get an IUD inserted. But there are other reasons to have one too! It’s common to be nervous about getting a pelvic exam, but there are lots of ways to make them more comfortable. You always have the right to refuse or stop any type of medical exam you don’t want.

What’s a pelvic exam? When do I need one?

A pelvic exam is a medical test for someone with a vulva, vagina, uterus, and/or cervix. During the test, a doctor or nurse takes a look at someone’s genital area on the outside and inside to make sure everything is ok. Sometimes a pelvic exam can involve testing for STIs. But that’s not the only reason someone may need one. Here are some common reasons someone might get a pelvic exam:

  • Something doesn’t feel right on or near your genitals
  • You have really painful periods
  • If you’re over the age of 21 and sexually active, you might need a Pap test
  • You need to have an IUD inserted or removed

What happens before a pelvic exam?

The doctor or nurse will bring you into a room with an exam table. They might ask you some questions about your sexual history and if you’re having any problems or symptoms. They may also want to know the date of your last period.

After that, the doctor or nurse will leave the room and ask you to undress from the waist down. This means taking off your bottom clothes and underwear. You’ll sit down on the exam table and cover the lower half of your body using a sheet. The doctor or nurse will knock on the door and ask if it’s ok to come back in.

What happens during a pelvic exam?

The doctor or nurse will ask you to lie down and move your bum to the short end of the table. They’ll probably ask you to open your legs a bit, to get a better look. Sometimes, they may ask you to put your legs in stirrups, which are metal arms that support your legs. It might sound a little scary and exposing. It can help to remember the sheet will be over you the whole time to make you feel a bit more comfortable.

From there, the doctor or nurse will look at the outside of the genitals. This is to check for any signs of infection or irritation. They might take a swab of the outside of the genitals to test for STIs. They might also put a gloved finger inside the vagina and feel the top of the abdomen. This is to make sure the ovaries are a normal size and feel ok.

If the doctor or nurse is doing a Pap test or inserting or removing an IUD, they’ll need to insert an instrument called a speculum. It kind of looks like the beak of a duck, but it’s made of metal. The speculum helps them get a better look at the cervix. Sometimes the speculum can hurt a little bit when it’s opened inside the vagina. The doctor or nurse might then take a swab of the cervix or begin inserting or removing the IUD. Then they’ll remove the speculum and the exam will be over.

What happens after a pelvic exam?

The doctor or nurse will leave the room so you can dress again. They might leave some pads for you in case you are bleeding a bit, which can be normal after a pelvic exam. They’ll come back in the room and you can ask them any questions you have. If you’re getting any tests done, you’ll have to wait a few days or weeks for the results.

Can I get birth control without having a pelvic exam?

You do not need to have a pelvic exam to get a prescription for birth control like the pill, NuvaRing, the patch, or the implant. If you are under the age of 21, a doctor or nurse shouldn’t suggest a pelvic exam, unless you are having problems with your genitals.

If a doctor or nurse doesn’t want to give you a prescription for birth control without doing a pelvic exam and you don’t feel comfortable having one done, it’s totally ok to leave! There might be another doctor you can see nearby that won’t require you to do the exam. You also might feel more comfortable or prepared having the exam done at a different time and that’s ok too.

What if I don’t want a pelvic exam or am too scared to get one?

It’s totally normal to think that pelvic exams sound scary, especially if you’ve never had one before. It’s important to remember that you are in control of your body. If you don’t want to have one, you don’t need to get one! Some STIs can be tested for using a urine sample, which might feel easier for some people.

You can also talk to the doctor or nurse ahead of time about how to make the exam more comfortable for you. This could involve having a friend or partner in the room with you. You can also ask for a nurse to be present, or ask for a doctor who has a gender you’re more comfortable with. It’s also important to remember that you are in control. You can stop the exam at any time if you’re feeling uncomfortable. It’s an exam for you and your body alone and no one else.

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