What’s going to happen at my clinic visit?

There’s a lot of things I do to make sure I stay healthy: bike to work (always wearing a helmet), choose healthy foods, have my teeth cleaned every six months (I have even started flossing every day – for real!). The one thing I struggled with for years was any reproductive health visit. Whether it’s for a regular Pap test, starting birth control or an STD check, I ALWAYS get nervous. What’s funny is that once I go, it’s no big deal!

If you’re scared, embarrassed, or just plain apathetic – get over it! Here’s what you can expect when you go to the doctor related to your sexual health — whether it’s for contraception, STD testing or treatment, or pregnancy planning here’s what you can expect:

  1. Paperwork– no matter what kind of health center you go to, you’ll be asked to fill out some forms. The first thing will be a medical history form – you’ll fill in information about your health and the health of your family. This helps the medical professional provide you with the best information and services to keep you healthy.
  2. Education – This part will most likely be done by a Medical Assistant or Registered Nurse. After reviewing your medical history form the MA or RN will probably ask you some additional questions including the reason for your visit. Then the nurse will provide you with some information about healthy lifestyles. This can include discussing what contraceptive options might be best for you, STI prevention, healthy eating, or exercise. Keep in mind that the nurse is there to help provide you with the best, most personalized health information possible so he or she will likely ask you some pretty personal questions about your sexual history and other health behaviors. The nurse is not trying to be all up in your business or get all judgy on you, so be honest!
  3. Exam – What happens here will depend on the purpose of your visit. It may be as simple as having your height, weight and blood pressure taken. The exam may include a little more including being asked to undress and put on a hospital gown (the doctor or nurse will leave the room while you change):

For gals –

  • Breast exam – while you are lying down, the doctor or nurse will press on the tissue all around your breast checking for lumps or other abnormal signs. You probably won’t have this done unless you are at least 19 years old.
  • Pelvic exam – while you are lying down, the doctor or nurse will have you put your feet up in the stirrups (the metal thingys at the end of the exam table) and scoot down to the end of the table. The doctor or nurse will use one hand to feel the inside of your vagina, uterus and cervix while the other hand presses gently on your lower abdomen. Then she will probably insert a speculum to open up the vagina so she can look inside to make sure everything looks healthy. A speculum kind of looks like a pair of salad tongs and they can be plastic or metal. They come in different sizes, so you don’t have to worry about it being too big. The doctor or nurse will probably use some lube on the speculum so it slides right in, easy-peasy!
  • Pap test – during your pelvic exam the doctor or nurse will swab your cervix and to collect cells to test for signs of cervical cancer. They might also do an HPV test on these cells to determine if you have one of the cancer causing types of HPV. You probably won’t have this done unless you are at least 21 years old. At this point (or maybe at another time during your visit), you may be asked about the HPV vaccine. This is a series of 3 shots that protect you against some of the most dangerous, cancer-causing types of HPV. The vaccine is recommended for women ages 26 and under. Ask your health care provider about the vaccine if she doesn’t bring it up.

For guys –

  • Inspection of penis and scrotum. This is when the doctor or nurse will look at the genitals to make sure everything looks healthy. He or she will touch and move the penis and scrotum gently in order to look at everything thoroughly.
  • Testicular exam – the doctor or nurse will gently feel your testicles for any abnormalities.
  • While there isn’t a specific test for HPV for males, it is still an issue. Talk with your health care provider about getting the HPV vaccine. This is a series of 3 shots that protect you (and your partners) against some of the most dangerous, cancer-causing types of HPV. The vaccine is recommended for men ages 21 and under and can be given up to age 26. Ask your health care provider about the vaccine if she doesn’t bring it up.
  1. Lab tests – Depending on what you are going in for, there may be some lab tests that take a couple of days (or even up to a week or two) to get back. You health care provider will tell you when you can expect your results and whether they will call or email you results, or they may ask you to come back to the clinic.
  2. Post-exam interview – after all the fun, someone will come back into the exam room and talk to you and answer any questions you might have.

Other things to keep in mind

  • You can always ask to have another person (clinic staff or a friend/family member) in the room with you during your exam, if it would make you more comfortable. Just ask, even if they don’t ask you if you want that.
  • You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. If your healthcare provider wants you do have an exam or lab test that you are uncomfortable with, you always have the right to say no.
  • Remember that healthcare providers do this kind of stuff all day, every day and they sometimes forget how the rest of us talk! It’s ok to ask questions. You might be confused or just curious – the reason doesn’t matter, just that you get the info you need to be happy and healthy!
  • Ask for some key points in writing if you need it.