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Pelvic Exam 101: Everything You Need to Know

Despite recent advances made towards women’s rights and reproductive health, these topics are often still under-discussed or even seen as taboo. However, in the wake of Evelyn Yang coming forward about the assault she suffered by her OBGYN and the life conviction of Manish Shah, a general practitioner who coerced and sexually assaulted patients, it’s time to start breaking these taboos and addressing what should happen during an invasive pelvic examination and what to expect when undergoing such examinations. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s crucial that you know you have the right to end the exam if you feel uncomfortable, in any scenario and at any time. For many women who suffer abuse from medical professionals, they were unaware that they could end the session and remained silent until it was completed. Additionally, if you are comfortable with the idea, you can have a family member or loved one sit in on the exam with you for emotional support. 

If you are not yet 21, there’s a decent chance you haven’t yet experienced a pelvic exam, as the recommendation is that you hold off on this form of examination until that age if you have no pressing symptoms. However, whether you’ve undergone a pelvic exam or not, here is a general overview of what you can expect during such an examination. 

To begin, the practitioner should provide you with a medical gown or sheet and exit the room to allow you to undress to your comfort. When they return, they should instruct you on how to situate yourself on the exam table. From there, they will begin the external exam, which consists of a visual and physical examination in search of issues on the outer extremities of the genitals. The external exam should consist of clinical and professional touch and the practitioner should inform you of any abnormalities they find.

Following the external exam is the speculum exam, which can be frightening to the uninformed. The speculum, an instrument used to allow practitioners a clear view of the cervix, is inserted into the vagina and then opened to further separate the vaginal walls. Once the speculum is inserted, the practitioner will use a swab or brush to take a sample of cells from the cervix. While most women report general discomfort, this procedure should not cause any extreme pain. 

Finally, the speculum will be removed and the bimanual exam will begin. This portion of the exam consists of the practitioner using one or two gloved fingers to manually examine the vagina. This should not be painful and, if it is, be sure to let the practitioner know. 

Throughout the duration of the exam, the practitioner must wear gloves and must respect your wishes. If you have any questions or concerns about the procedure, be sure to ask the practitioner and they should provide you with a respectful answer.

For a more in-depth overview of the process of a pelvic exam, check out Planned Parenthood’s page on pelvic exams and be sure to familiarize yourself with the proper procedures for invasive exams. Additionally, this online hotline, run by RAINN, is available with 24/7 staff who are trained to address instances of abuse.  

Featured Image by Thomas Anderson on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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