Do Pelvic Exams Hurt?

Q: I’ve never had a pelvic exam before and I’ve heard that they hurt.  What can I expect? 

A: A pelvic exam is an important part of keeping your reproductive and sexual organs healthy.  There’s no denying that it is unpleasant and even embarrassing, but hopefully knowing how and why we do it will ease some of your fears. 

The pelvic exam includes three parts:

The external exam – the provider will inspect the outer part of your vagina for signs of infections or abnormal skin changes.  She has to look between the folds of skin so you may feel her touch the outside of your vagina and separate the labia slightly.   

The speculum exam – she will then insert a lubricated speculum (an instrument that looks like a long, thin duck bill) into your vagina and open it to inspect the inside of your vagina and cervix.  You’ll feel some pressure and may hear some weird clicking noises.  This is when she does the Pap test

The bimanual exam – next, she will insert her gloved and lubricated fingers into your vagina, and will press down on the outside of your lower abdomen with her other hand.  This allows her to feel your internal reproductive organs (cervix, uterus and ovaries) for any irregularities.

The whole exam takes only a few minutes to complete, and although it can be uncomfortable, it should NOT be painful. If you experience pain, be sure to let your healthcare provider know.  It may be as simple as adjusting the exam a little, but it may also be an indication of an infection or other problems. 

We put you through all of this for a good reason.  Many of the bad things that can happen to your reproductive system – sexually transmitted infections (STI) and cervical cancer to name but a few – often don’t cause any symptoms.  This means you could have a serious health issue and not be aware of it!

And just to clarify.  While the latest guidelines state that sexually active women don’t need to start getting pap tests until they’re 21 years old, once you start having sex you need to see a women’s care provider at least once a year for an exam, STI testing, and counseling on birth control and safe sex – no matter how old you are.

We realize that the pelvic exam can be a source of significant anxiety.  The health care providers in Women’s Services at the Student Health Center are very good at making the experience as comfortable as possible.  So call 614-292-4321 to make an appointment; you’ll be in good hands.

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Ryo Choi-Pearson, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

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