Aunt Vadge: I’m scared of my doctor doing a pelvic exam

Hi Aunt Vadge!

I’m really worried about pap smears and pelvic exams. my GP is a man and there are no female doctors in my town or anything like Planned Parenthood. I would feel so uncomfortable and violated if a man touched me downstairs, even if he is a doctor.

And breast exams would make me so scared too. I’m also really worried about the speculum. I’ve heard it’s always freezing cold. I’m a virgin and cannot fit anything larger than my two fingers inside myself  and I’m very, very scared that it will hurt or take my virginity.

I really don’t know what to do. All the videos I’ve seen make the speculum so huge it would probably make me scream. I know it’s a necessary part of life as a woman but I really hate the idea.

Name: Scared
Age: 17
Country: Canada

Hi there Scared,

We all understand! It can be really scary having someone poking and prodding around your vagina, especially an older man. But, you are right – this is a necessary part of making sure your vagina is healthy, so you need to work out a way to get around this.

It is important to understand that you may not only ever get to have a female doctor examining you, and this needs to be more ok than it is. It can be challenging, but remember male doctors are people too, and they don’t want you to have a bad experience.

They just want to make sure you are all healthy, and send you on your way. Doctors are nice people! And speculums aren’t always big. They just need to open up the walls of your vagina a bit to allow the long swab to reach your cervix.

The whole thing takes mere minutes, which I’m sure you can cope with. It’s normal to feel scared, but being scared of something you have no experience in is often worse than having a real bad experience, because your imagination runs rampant.

You have a few options.

  1. Get your doctor on board by explaining to him how scared you are, and make him your team member instead of your enemy;
  2. ask to have a female nurse put the speculum in/be there when it happens as your ally (another team member);
  3. see if you can visit another town or city that has female medical staff; or
  4. wait until you move out of town, unless you really need a test for infections or something.

Getting your doctor onboard as a team member

You can make an appointment with your doctor, and explain to him how nervous and scared you are, and ask him for his help.

Tell him exactly what you are worried about: pain, the speculum, and your virginity. He can be super gentle with you, heating up the speculum before he inserts it (using lubricant) by running it under hot water. Not too hot, obviously, but warm!

He can instruct you on how to relax your vaginal muscles so that the speculum can go into your vagina, and open up. This allows him to look into your vagina and see if everything looks normal, and take swabs as necessary for your tests. He’s not sexualising you (unless he’s a creep), so take away his maleness and replace it with his doctorlyness. He is on your side!

You also have a great opportunity to use your doctor’s experience and ask about the different things you might be worried about – discharge, smells, your labia colour or shape.

Your doctor has seen thousands upon thousands of vaginas in his time, and while yours might be very special to you, as long as everything looks normal, your vagina and vulva are just like an arm or a leg or mouth to your doctor. He’ll be gentle with you if you explain just how scared you are – he doesn’t want you to have a bad experience under his watch!

Getting a female nurse at least present

You may not even have access to a female nurse, but you can certainly ask for someone else to be present when you get your pap test/pelvic exam done. This could be your mum sitting just outside or a nurse inside with you. Doctors and nurses are used to people being nervous, and are good at helping you feel better.

Finding the woman doctor of your dreams

You could also make an appointment with a woman doctor in another town or city, if you happen to be going that way. You do have to learn how to be ok with this – we’ve all had to go through this before you, and sometimes, I won’t lie, it’s been really unpleasant, but other times – with a good doctor who knows their way around – it is short and painless, and you can joke your way through it.

Waiting until later

Unless you are worried about something in particular, then there is no need for you to be in a hurry to get a pelvic examination. You may move away from home to university or to work someplace else in a year or so, and there may be other options.

Don’t unnecessarily delay here, but if everything seems ok, you are all good for birth control, and don’t have any cause to suspect an infection, you don’t need to be in a huge hurry. Also, if there is something you are concerned about, you can make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor, without taking your pants off.

Top tips for pelvic exams

  • Laugh with your doctor! Ask them for their best jokes, put some music on, ask them about their pets. Talk. It diffuses anxiety.
  • Explain how you feel so that your doctor can help you. If they don’t know, they can’t help you.
  • Wipe yourself up afterwards with the paper towel – KY Jelly or whatever lube they use gets sticky later in the day.
  • Ask about your vagina and vulva, and ask what your doctor can see. Learn something! They are seeing a perspective of your body that you will never see.
  • Be glad we have great (free!) medical systems, and that women’s healthcare in Canada is paid for. Be grateful for the service you are being offered, at no cost to you, and think of all the women who must pay $500+ for the same privilege.

Also, you can’t lose your virginity to a speculum – that’s not how virginity works! – so you’re all good there. Virginity is completely related to sexual intercourse, usually with a man’s penis (but the term is loose at the best of times). Read more about virginity here. 

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.