As a general rule, a gynaecologist's office is a no judgement zone, where you can bring up personal topics and issues that feel too embarrassing to share with others.
And so it stands to reason that when picking a gynaecologist, we've got a checklist of things we look for: are they approachable? Are they attentive? Do they make us feel comfortable and seem knowledgeable?
But it might surprise you to hear your gynae probably has a wish list of their own for you, too.
In fact, there are quite a few common issues that doctors see over and over – and they can keep you from getting the best possible care.
Here are nine things a gynaecologist wishes you'd stop doing.
1. Being too nervous to schedule an appointment
It's normal to be a little anxious, but don't let that stop you from finding one and making the call.
If you don't have a regular doctor, ask friends or family for recommendations, and call around until you find a doctor who gives you a good vibe. Gynaecologist's are open during the pandemic so don't feel you can't make an appointment.
'When you make the appointment, just say, "I'm really nervous because this is my first visit,"' says Serena Chen, MD, director for reproductive medicine at Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas. Then gauge how they react – do they brush off your concerns, or try to reassure you?
2. Not being honest
We know it's awkward to talk about your vagina with someone you see once a year, but keep in mind your gynaecologist absolutely, positively won't find anything you say weird.
'The important thing is to be honest with your doctor and let them know everything that's going on, instead of leaving the questions in the bubble above your head,' Dr. Chen says.
If there's something you're too embarrassed to ask, write it down and bring it with you instead. If anatomical terms make you cringe, use whatever words you're comfortable with – a gynaecologist has heard it all before.
3. Believing the 'feminine hygiene' hype
Step away from those products that promise to make your genitals smell like a field of wildflowers. Using vaginal cleansing products are actually associated with higher rates of pelvic inflammatory disease, and the NHS actually advises against vaginal douching.
'Feminine deodorant sprays can cause irritation or allergic reactions, and they can create an imbalance in the chemistry of the vagina and lead to higher rates of bacterial overgrowth or yeast overgrowth.'
That said, if you feel like you smell, schedule an appointment to make sure you don't have an infection. Otherwise, just wash in the shower like you normally would – that's all the hygiene you need.
4. Worrying about your grooming habits
Your doctor couldn't care less whether you've got a Brazilian wax, an untamed wilderness, or anything in between. 'My patients are always apologising for not shaving beforehand, and it really does not make a difference,' Dr. Chen says. 'The doctor is not thinking about it.'
5. Waiting out a UTI
If you have the telltale symptoms of a urinary tract infection (you feel like you have to pee all the time, and it burns when you do), don't waste time trying to treat it with home remedies.
'A UTI can go to your kidneys, so that should be considered urgent,' Dr. Chen cautions. If you can't get a doctor's appointment, see if the nurse at the surgery can prescribe a treatment, or visit a walk-in clinic to get a urine culture done. In the meantime, guzzle water like it's your job.
6. Googling all your burning health questions
Online searches don't know your medical history or risk factors like a (human) doctor would, and can in fact just to lead to greater anxiety.
'Dr. Google is great for general health awareness, but for actual medical advice, you have to see the doctor,' Dr. Chen says. Stick to sites such as the NHS, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists or NetDoctor where the medical information has been vetted by doctors - and then visit your real one to put your mind at rest.
7. Putting up with bad period pains
If you're having severe cramps or a super-heavy flow or awful mood swings, your gynaecologist or doctor wants to hear about it so they can help.
'People shouldn't be suffering every single month,' Dr. Chen says. 'There are a lot of things that can be done, so you should definitely be evaluated. It's usually something simple that can be treated.'
8. Slacking on safe sex
You may feel weird asking about birth control and protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases and infections, but remember that your gynaecologist talks about this stuff all day long.
They can give you a rundown of your options and help you choose the best one for you. And, friendly reminder, they'd prefer you do all that before you actually do the deed.
'The best thing – even though it makes people nervous – is to see the gynaecologist before you have your first [or a new] sexual experience, so you make sure you get protected against unwanted pregnancy and STDs' says Dr Chen.
9. Cancelling your checkup because you got your period
Waking up on the morning of your appointment to find you've got your period might feel like a reason to cancel, but check with your gynaecologist first. 'It can never hurt to call the nurse and say, "I'm on my period, is it okay if I come in?"' Dr. Chen says.
'I always like people to come anyway, because it's hard to get people scheduled.'
And if your period's irregular, there's no guarantee you'll be period-free when your next appointment rolls around either – and that creates a catch-22 where you're not getting help for your irregular period because you can't schedule a visit around your irregular period.
Bottom line? 'Lean towards going in,' Dr. Chen says.
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