Hey there! I’m Karen. As a bilingual sexuality educator at Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, I get to talk to people of all ages about their sexual and reproductive health.
Did you know that some of Planned Parenthood’s most utilized services are routine, preventive women’s health visits? We call these well-woman visits, and they are annual visits that are about you, your body and your reproductive health.
Unfortunately, many people don’t feel confident navigating the reproductive part of their health. Though well-woman visits are normal, to some women, they can seem a little confusing and ominous. So, I’m here to demystify things!
Well-woman visits can also be called gynecological exams, pelvic exams or annual exams. If you have a vulva, breasts or a uterus, these visits are an important part of taking care of your health (regardless of your gender identity).
What happens during your well-woman visit depends on a few things, such as your:
- sexual history
- medical history
It’s a good idea to have your first well-woman visit between the ages of 13 and 15. It may just be a talk with your doctor, plus a regular physical exam. As a part of this visit, your doctor or nurse will check your height, weight and blood pressure.
You might also talk about your period, especially if you’re worried about it being heavy, painful or irregular. If you’re sexually active (meaning you’ve had vaginal, anal or oral sex), you may talk about birth control or STD testing.
Around age 18, you’ll start needing regular pelvic exams, pap tests, and breast examinations. If you’re between the ages of 19-26, you may get some shots, like the HPV vaccine, which prevents a sexually transmitted infection that has been linked to a number of cancers. And as you get older, or as your health changes, your well-woman visits will include other tests and referrals for mammograms and other types of routine screenings.
One thing that is important, no matter how old you are, is building a good, honest relationship with your doctor or nurse. During your well-woman visit, you can talk about healthy relationships and other parts of your emotional health. The more honest you are, the better care you’ll get. That’s why it’s important to have a doctor or nurse you trust and can be open with. If you’re not comfortable being 100% honest with your current doctor or nurse, think about switching to someone else.
Have breasts and/or a vagina, but don’t identify as a woman? It’s still a good idea to have these kinds of check-ups with your nurse or doctor, along with any trans care you may be receiving.
What kinds of questions will I be asked during my visit?
First, your doctor or nurse will ask about you and your family's medical histories. These questions help them give you the care that's right for you, so try to be as honest and complete as you can. They’ll ask you questions like:
- When was your last period?
- How often do you have periods and how long do they last?
- Do you ever bleed/spot between periods?
- Do you have any unusual pain, itching or discharge from your vagina or vulva?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
- What medical problems do other members of your family have?
- Are you sexually active? (In other words: have you ever had vaginal, anal, or oral sex?)
- Do you have sex with men, women or both?
- Is sex ever painful?
- Do you bleed during or after sex?
- Are you using birth control?
- Do you think you might be pregnant?
- Do you want to get pregnant?
- What steps do you take to prevent STDs?
Your doctor or nurse may also ask you about alcohol or other drug use, allergies, illnesses, infections, smoking and any surgeries you might have had.
Your well-woman exam is a time for you to ask questions, too!
Make sure you ask all the questions that you want to. Before your appointment, you might want to write down anything you want to talk about and talk to someone in your family about your family’s medical history because it can be hard to remember on the spot! If you need or want any tests, you can usually take care of them during your appointment.
Any other questions? You can read more about well-woman visits and other services by clicking here. If you feel ready to schedule your visit, you can make an appointment by clicking here. You can also drop a comment below and our team will answer you!
Stay tuned for the next installment of "Keeping it 100" on Wednesday, June 27th, 2018.
Whatismyhealth © 2018