Gynaecological checkup 101: from pelvic exams to reproductive rights.
Ever felt reluctant to visit a gynaecologist? You’re not alone.
Thanks to the general lack of awareness, Indian women tend to believe that the only time they need to see a gynaecologist is when they are trying to have a baby. Not only is this a narrow-minded view of reproductive health, but there could be numerous issues you may not catch early if you don’t consult with a gynaecologist regularly, including HPV vaccinations, PCOS screenings, menstruation-related health, and many others.
The social stigma around sexual activity can worsen the situation – according to a recent report, a whopping 95% of unmarried Indian women had never consulted a gynaecologist for sexual or contraceptive advice! Relying only on guidance from your friends or the internet can be unsafe. Instead, we recommend visiting a gynaecologist proactively after puberty, and definitely when you first turn sexually active. This will help you get clued-in, prevent diseases and track your health better.
What a normal gynaecological exam looks like
Typically, it will begin with a general checkup of your vitals. This will be followed by questions about your menstrual and sexual history and your drinking and dietary habits.
Next, you will be asked to privately undress and given a drape for your external genital exam. You will then proceed to a pelvic exam to screen for diseases, cysts, warts and other irregularities. This will include mainly:
- Speculum exam, where a medical tool will be lightly inserted into your vagina.
- Pap smear, where a small cotton swab will collect a sample of exfoliated cells from your cervix.
- Manual exam, where the doctor will insert 1 or 2 gloved fingers into your vagina while pressing on your abdomen.
If needed, the pelvic exam may also be accompanied by:
- A rectovaginal exam, inserting a gloved finger into your rectum to inspect muscles between the vagina and anus.
- An endoscopic exam, inserting a camera or a microscope through the vaginal route.
Although pelvic exams include mild discomfort, they’re not necessarily painful. Once you reach age 21, it’s essential to get regular pelvic exams, at least once in 3 years. Apart from the pelvic exam, sometimes, your gynaecologist may also conduct a breast exam to check for abnormal discharge, hardening or lumps as a screening for breast cancer.
Check-up gone wrong
While inappropriate or ungloved touching is extremely rare and should be reported, there are other instances that can make a gynaecological check-up unpleasant. Sometimes, patients may feel judged or morally pushed towards a certain treatment. In India, it’s not uncommon for nurses to ask if you are unmarried instead of if you are sexually active. What might be said innocuously might feel strange to some. So, it’s important to know the difference between standard medical protocol and unacceptable behaviour.
Essentials of a fair checkup
- Before proceeding with the checkup, the doctor must ask for your consent. This should be followed by an explanation of the procedure.
- If you are over the age of 18, you can legally consent to your own checkups and other procedures (like abortions). As an adult, you should not be asked for parental or spousal approval and involvement.
- The doctor should inform you of all treatment and contraceptive options without any moral bias.
- Your sexual orientation and history should be respected without prejudice.
- A female attendant should be present throughout the checkup if the doctor is male.
- Your records should be kept confidential and undisclosed to relatives.
- The doctor should not ask unnecessary personal questions, pass judgment and/or say inappropriate sexual remarks.
If, during a checkup, you sense misconduct, judgement or unethical treatment you should speak up. Alternatively, you can decline to go ahead with the procedure. To truly take control of your own body, you should always stay informed.
Find out more by booking an online consultation or chat with our expert gynaecologists at Veera Health.
Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician