**Edit: This post has been edited to reflect neutral nouns
The idea of scheduling your annual exam or a well-person exam might send shivers down your spine. Let’s be honest-not many people that have vaginal canals look forward to getting a metal object shoved up their vagina. In fact, I could write an entire article just on OB/GYN horror stories alone!
Having that yearly visit with your health care provider is very important in preventing cancer, infertility and promotes general health through preventative care.
Here is a run down of what happens during your annual exam and what to talk to your health care provider about.
A pap smear is test to detect if you have any abnormal cells on your cervix. Most health providers recommend that anyone with a cervix start getting pap smear every year starting at the age of 21 even if they have been sexually active before the age of 21. If your test comes back negative or “normal” then you can talk to your doctor about the need to have you pap every year.
It might be worth talking to your doctor about getting an HPV test along side your pap test. There is plenty of research on when to have an HPV test as well as guidelines on how often you will need to come in for your pap test depending on the combined results of these two. Most doctors recommend having the HPV test along with your pap test at age 30 because most abnormal pap test resolve on their own. Your and your provider will discuss your test results, along with your next steps once your test results come back in a few weeks.
Along with your pap test your provider will conduct a manual pelvic exam. This means the will insert a few fingers into your vagina and use the other hand to press on your abdomen. This is to assess the ovaries, uterus and other reproductive organs (if you have those organs).
Your provider will check your upper chest or breasts while you are sitting up and lying down. This exam does require you to take your shirt off and wear a gown. It is important to have clinical breast/chest exam once a year. In addition to your annual clinical breast/chest exam, it is pertinent to conduct your own self check every month 1-2 weeks after your period. If you do not menstruate, you can talk to your doctor about what she/he/they might recommend. Your annual visit is a great time to learn the proper way to conduct your own breast/chest exam at home as well as talk to your provider about your breasts/chest. This is also an opportune time to talk to your provider about any history of lumps in your breasts/chest, discharge, change in texture of skin, or change in the appearance of your nipples, and any scarring from surgery you might be concerned about. However, it is critical to contact your healthcare provider as soon as your notice any change in your breast tissue or lumps in your upper chest and armpit area. Your clinician can talk to you about what to look for and what is considered “normal” according to your body.
Some people do not think they need to have any sexual transmitted infection test performed at their exam because they are in a monogamous relationship or because they exclusively have sex one gender. But the most common sign or symptom of a sexually transmitted infection is no sign at all. It is important to get a full spectrum STD check once a year, every time you have had unprotected sex, and anytime you have a new partner.
In general, it takes about 2 weeks for someone to test positive for the most common STDs like gonorrhea, and chlamydia and 3 months for an HIV test to come up as positive. Depending on your unique circumstance, the clinician may recommend a time-frame for any follow-up testing that may be needed.
Here is a list of common infections, not all of them are transmitted through sexual contact
- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
In addition, your provider will do a heart and lung check. Take this time to talk about anything that might concern you such as birth control methods, your sexual history, sexuality, sexual orientation, mental health, menstrual cycle, new bumps or growths on your skin and anything else you are concerned about. Remember, it is important to find a provider that is respectful, knowledgeable, non-judgmental, and culturally competent. You want to get the most out of this visit and it is important to be able to build a trusting relationship with your healthcare provider.