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How should I prepare for a gynecological exam?

Unlike a trip to the dentist, where brushing and flossing is essential, women need not do anything to prepare for an exam with their gynecologist. Truly, the only expectation is basic hygiene—a shower or bath within 24 hours is always appreciated.

In some cases, a woman’s efforts to “prepare” for an exam could actually diminish a gynecologist's ability to get accurate test results. If a Pap test is on the agenda, it’s important that a woman hasn’t done anything to wash away or obscure the cervical cells that need to be screened for pre-cancerous changes. It is also impossible to evaluate an abnormal discharge or odor if the environment has been altered. That means no spermicide, no medications, no lubricants and no douching (you should never douche under any circumstance!) for 24 hours before your appointment.

And, ideally, no sex. Having intercourse without a condom the night before a Pap will not make a normal Pap smear abnormal, but it might obscure cervical cells so that it cannot be accurately read.

Should you cancel if you “forgot” the night before? Realistically, after waiting two months for an appointment, asking for the afternoon off work or desperately needing a refill on your birth control pills, it may not be practical to take a pass. Be sure to mention to your gynecologist that you had sex, and be aware that you may get a call back if the Pap can’t be read accurately.

On the other hand, if you are coming in specifically to check out an abnormal discharge or odor, you should probably reschedule. It’s pretty much impossible to figure out what is going on if you had intercourse hours before your visit.

If you are coming in for another problem, say abnormal bleeding, an STD check or pelvic pain, it really doesn’t matter.

In preparing for a gynecological exam, the most important thing to do is relax. Not only will the exam be easier for the doctor, but it will be easier for you, too. Tensing your muscles as you anticipate the speculum makes the experience much worse for you, and trying to relax really will help relieve the stress you may feel.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.