DEAR KELLY: I'm 16 and have to go in for a pelvic exam in about three weeks, and I'm so scared. I had sex twice with a guy I dated earlier this year but I never told my mom.
Lately, I've had really heavy periods and they're so inconsistent that my doctor wants to check everything out. Plus my grandma died of cervical cancer, so my mom is really panicked about anything like that happening to her or me.
But I'm really afraid for two reasons – will she be able to tell that I've had sex already and, if so, will she tell my mom? Also, I'm really worried it's going to hurt and I get dizzy around things like needles or blood, so I'm afraid I might faint or something embarrassing like that.
When I told my mom I was scared, she said she would come in with me but I don't want her to because I'm afraid the doctor will say something about me not being a virgin anymore. My mom would be so mad because I never got the right kind of protection when I had sex (unprotected sex), and she really hated the guy I had sex with.
He's not around anymore, but I know she would still be so mad because she's always saying I need to save that moment for someone special, and he obviously was not it.
Any suggestions? Advice? Things to prepare for?
DEAR MARIANNA: You are among good company, as most women feel similar fears before their first pelvic exam. It can be a scary thing to experience the first time because you really don't know what to expect or if there is pain involved.
Let's face it, it's not a trip to the beach but it's important to do for your health, especially considering your family history with cervical cancer.
You bring up two points, so let's start with your confidentiality. The doctor or nurse practitioner (depending on whom you see) should ask to speak with you alone before the exam. You can tell her you are not comfortable with your mom being in the room and would like her to wait outside.
If she asks you about sexual history, be honest with her and tell her you have had sex twice but never told your mom. She might want to talk with you about birth control suggestions considering you had unprotected sex, which is a big risk you should be cautious of repeating.
She will probably ask you other questions such as whether you might be pregnant, when was your last period and how long did it last and do you have pain or discharge when you are on your periods. While those questions might make you embarrassed or uncomfortable, it is all part of the process for the medical professionals to be sure you are receiving the right help for anything that is going on internally.
Everything you tell the doctor should be confidential. They are used to seeing young women your age and know the legal boundaries about confidentiality.
If the doctor brings your mom in and asks if you would like a few moments to talk alone with her, speak up and say yes. Tell your mom that you were more comfortable asking questions without her around, so you asked her to step outside when the doctor asked.
If the doctor or nurse practitioner is able to tell you have had sex from the exam, they will not say this in front of your mom. This will stay between you and the medical professional.
As for the exam, if you happen to have a male doctor, they should have a female nurse in the room with you during the exam. If they don't offer this, be sure to ask for it.
While the office visit might take a while because they will ask a lot of questions and talk with you about your medical history, the actual exam part takes about 10 minutes. And, rest assured, there are no needles and you will see no blood. It can feel awkward and unpleasant, but most women would describe it as more uncomfortable than painful.
If it starts to hurt, let them know and they can always stop or take a break. Have your doctor or nurse practitioner talk you through what they will do before the exam, so you are prepared for the process.
Our family history helps us know where we need to be more cautious. In your case, having yearly pelvic exams and Pap smear tests should become part of your routine. Also, use the time alone with your doctor to talk about possible birth control if you think you might have sex again soon.
Don't take that risk again without being better prepared. Make wise choices regarding your body, your health and your future.