It’s strictly business, seriously.
By Zahra Barnes
If you have a vagina, seeing a gynecologist is a crucial part of maintaining good health. It can also be kind of weird if when you’re looking for a new gynecologist, you take a mental step back and are like, “Hm, just shopping for a stranger to show my vagina to.” In that mindset, it’s easy to get nervous about baring it all in front of someone you don’t really know.
But good gynecologists truly don’t care about the aesthetic things that preoccupy many patients. “I’m not going to judge you because your labia are longer than [someone else’s],” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School, tells SELF.
Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn, agrees. “As a doctor, I do this up to 30 times on a busy day,” he tells SELF. “People are shy, but if I were to trip over your vagina in the parking lot on the way home, I wouldn’t even recognize it.”
And even though some men tell Abdur-Rahman he’s “lucky” to be a gynecologist—Really? Really, guys?—he explains that there’s nothing sexual or judgmental about the process. “Even though you’re looking at genitalia, it’s all very clinical,” he says.
Here, he and Minkin explain what ob/gyns really think when they see your vagina.
What’s the pubic hair pattern like?
This isn’t code for a doctor sneering at whatever you decide to do with your pubic hair (although lots of gynecologists wish you’d leave your pubic hair alone). Instead, they’re looking to make sure the hair is in the usual inverted triangle shape (or would be, if you didn’t wax or shave it). “If someone’s hair pattern is going excessively high up on the stomach or going low down on the legs, there could be a hormonal issue,” says Abdur-Rahman.
Are there any unusual genital bumps?
Having one doesn’t automatically mean you have a sexually transmitted infection—there are plenty of reasons you might have a bump near your vagina. But it’s definitely something doctors keep their eyes peeled for, says Abdur-Rahman.
Is there any redness or inflammation?
Changes in the color of the tissue down there can hint at irritation, whether it’s caused by something like a harsh chemical soap, sexually transmitted infection, or other issue, Minkin explains. So can inflammation. Doctors will also take note of any new dark pigmentation, as “people can occasionally have melanomas on the vulva,” says Minkin.
What’s the discharge situation like?
Frequent discharge is totally normal—but in some cases it can be one of the biggest tip-offs that all is not entirely well in your vagina, the doctors explain. For example, a yeast infection can produce a white cottage cheese-like discharge, while discharge that’s gray or white with a fishy odor can signal something like bacterial vaginosis.
Is the cervix inflamed?
At some point in the evaluation, your doctor will insert a speculum so they can better see inside the vagina. They’re checking for more discharge and to ensure there aren’t any “lumps, bumps, or sores” on the vaginal walls, says Abdur-Rahman. They’re also taking a peek at your cervix.
“Some people have a cervix that’s uniform in color, and some have more of a two-tone cervix,” says Abdur-Rahman. But in both cases, doctors are checking for an “angry-looking” cervix, which could mean it’s unusually red or has any lesions or ulcers, he explains. Inflammation or sores can be due to vaginal or cervical infections that doctors can then confirm through testing.
Are there any lumps or bumps they can feel externally?
So, there’s that part of the exam when your doctor will insert a finger or two into your vagina while feeling around your abdomen with their other hand. “We’re looking for lumps and bumps that can be cysts, fibroids, or scarring from a previous infection,” says Minkin. If they feel something they’d like to investigate, an ultrasound may be in order.
The bottom line: Your ob/gyn is there to help you out and address any questions you have, not make you feel bad about anything (whether it be physical or emotional). “Tell your doctor your concerns, and don’t be shy about it,” says Abdur-Rahman. “There is nothing you can say or show me that I haven’t seen a million times before.”
This article was originally published at Self. Reprinted with permission from the author.