One of the most important practices a woman can engage in is a trip to the gynecologist. Oh, this isn’t because you love it so much. Nor, is it because you enjoy the visit. You may like your doctor. And, you may even get a bonus gift of specialized products just for women when you leave. You can leave your chaps at home, however. You won’t need them when you get positioned on the table in the stirrups.

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Oddly, sometimes when you are being examined, the doctor could find that you may have a slight infection — be it yeast, fungal, urinary — or, worse a sexually transmitted disease that you weren’t aware of. Any one of these could be cause for alarm, especially if left untreated. I know that women are ripe for yeast infections after a round of antibiotics. I sure know that one first hand. It’s easy to treat, especially if you get it early. Otherwise, you’re destined for a few rounds of medication before you get it knocked out.

A major portion of all well-woman visits is a pelvic exam. It may not be the most comfortable experience that you’ve ever had, but it is so important because while your doctor is checking things out, you’ll get a pap smear and, if warranted, a test for one of a number of sexually transmitted diseases. A pap smear helps to determine if you are affected by cervical cancer.

Been in pain during a menstrual cycle or beforehand? This could be a sign of something more severe, like a fibroid (a growth that adheres itself to the uterine wall or elsewhere within the female reproductive organs), adhesions (scar tissue that runs amok and can attach itself to your ovaries and fallopian tubes), or tumors (either benign or malignant).

I remember one of my first exams. I was in college and my editor sent me undercover to the school’s newly-instituted family planning clinic to check it out. It was odd and I felt like a slab of meat on a table. Since I did not know the staff, I did not feel as welcome or as comfortable with them. This comes later on when you research doctors in your area with whom you can establish a rapport. Anyway, the doctor will have you slide down to the edge of the table with your feet in the stirrups so he or she can expand your vaginal canal with an instrument called a speculum. This metal device comes in a few sizes, so if the one they are using is too big, ask for a smaller one. It can make a big difference with how well you tolerate the procedure. Your doctor may also choose to do a test for colorectal cancer and accompanying exam. This one requires a tiny smear of feces that is placed on a specialized substrate which gives immediate reading results. I know that my doctor also asks for a urine specimen to establish red/white blood cell variety or number, to see if there is bacteria, etc., in the urine, to check to see if glucose or other substances are there, to determine what the pH acid or alkaline shows, as well as the urine concentration. Once everything is said and done (and, this should also include a breast exam as well), you get dressed and then have a little chat with the doctor. If things are okay, then you simply schedule your next visit for a year later. If not, then you can discuss treatment options. I try to get my mammogram a month or longer before my appointment so my doctor has the results to share with me. That way you don’t have to go back if your doctor requires this discussion with you in person.

One of the most humorous trips I had with stirrups and a speculum was when I was a member of the Sexuality and Lesbian Task Force of the Memphis NOW chapter back in the mid 1970s. We were able to get a demonstration and lecture on women’s health issues presented by the University of Tennessee Medical School. The program director and staff were there to give us the 411 on reproductive health. Hey, this was funny. Most of the women there were lesbians and were not even thinking about having kids. I guess that the staff was not used to a posse of dykes!

Anyway, after the lecture, we were divided into smaller groups so that we could actually see what a vagina and a cervix looked like. We thought that we’d have a film. Oh, were we naive. What we had was a request for two volunteers who would hop up on an exam table and be willing to show their “female parts” to the rest of the gang. Well, I have to tell you that this was one of the oddest meetings we ever had. One woman who said yes was a small butch. She parked herself right up there and spread her legs and grabbed a hold of the plastic speculums that were there for us to use. Everyone was totally shocked that she’d do this. Anyway, she was seemingly just fine with it as one-by-one, women took a gander at her and then moved on down the line to another room where a very feminine straight woman was doing the same thing. This time, we all blushed as we were in awe of her willingness to be so open-minded and, well, exposed!

I said that we each got a plastic speculum, right? What I did not tell you was how out-of-the-body experience it was when I took mine home and used it on myself. It reminded me of the first time I used a tampon. Shockcity! Where did it go? Could I get it out? Anyway, there I was lying on my bed with a mirror in hand and a flashlight propped up for illumination. I stuck the apparatus in and just watched in amazement. It went in! I spread it open and looked in the netherlands of my interior regions to total wonder. So, that’s what I look like inside? Hey, that’s me! Wow! If I had been a lot more limber (like one of those contortionist acts), I might have been able to get a closer look. Being someone who has a love for physiology, I’d have jumped at the chance. Hey, this was not going to happen, so I had to simply be accepting of the fact that I could not see myself without the aid of a mirror. Too bad! (If you want to try this out yourself, ask your doctor if he/she can get you a plastic one to use. Or, you can go online to find purchase resources and instructions on how to perform the process. Remember, these are only to be used by you to prevent the spread of bacteria. You can share an order of onion rings, but not this!)

In today’s world, I am not sure that there would be such a level of shyness or shock as the nature of life has become much more accepting in the expression of things that are considered natural these days. I know that is not true for everyone, but you have to agree that we’ve come a long way. Twenty years ago, who would have every thought they’d see commercials for lubricant, feminine products and more so front and center?

So, ladies! If you have not had your annual visit or have never ventured out for one, now is the time to mount up and get into those stirrups. But, don’t expect to get a lollipop when it’s all done. Do ask for any information that you feel will benefit your overall health and will ensure that your body stays in top form. For those of you who have never been, be sure to get a referral from a friend or family member. They are often the best testament for a solid doctor who will be your ally in your quest for optimum health. : :

Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen is QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director. She can be reached at and 704-531-9988,...