How to Talk to a Doctor about Vaginal Concerns
Content warning: This article contains information about sexual abuse. It has been included so our audience can feel prepared when engaging with their Doctor and identify potential triggers they may encounter. Skip point number 4 below, if you want to avoid this content.
There are several conditions that can affect your vagina or vulva and talking with a Doctor about vaginal concerns can be a daunting experience. Most conditions or concerns are easily treatable so it's important to seek help or advice.
In this blog, we will guide you through the process of talking to healthcare professionals about vaginal concerns, provide tips for effective communication, explain what a vaginal examination involves and offer advice on addressing fears or nerves about pelvic examinations.
1. Prepare Ahead of Time
Before your appointment, take some time to gather your thoughts and prepare what you want to discuss with your healthcare provider. Note down any symptoms you have had, how long they have been occurring and if they have changed over time.
Also, write down any questions you may have. This will help you stay organised during the appointment and ensure that you don't forget anything important.
Whilst it can be helpful to do some research on your own from reputable sources, try to avoid self-diagnosing. It's OK to tell your practitioner you have done some research online and believe your symptoms could be related to x, y or z but that you know self-diagnosis isn't reliable and so you are seeking a professional opinion.
2. Choose the Right Healthcare Professional
Select a healthcare professional you feel comfortable with. This could be a general practitioner or gynaecologist. If choosing a GP, look for someone who is experienced in dealing with vaginal health issues. You also have the right to request a female practitioner if this makes you feel more comfortable.
3. Discuss your Concerns Openly
Honesty is key when discussing vaginal concerns. Be clear and descriptive about your symptoms, including their duration, severity and any factors that make them better or worse. Even seemingly minor details such as diet or lifestyle changes, can help your Doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
Remember that healthcare professionals are there the help you - they will treat you with dignity and respect. Our practitioners train for many years in a wide range of issues and whilst your condition may be unusual or feel embarrassing to you, it's unlikely to be for them.
4. Understand the Examination Process
A vital part of diagnosing vaginal concerns may involve a pelvic examination. It's natural to feel nervous about pelvic examinations, but it's important not to let fear deter you from seeking the healthcare you need.
This examination is designed to assess the health of your reproductive organs and is a routine procedure. A pelvic exam might include an external examination of the genital area and an internal examination with a speculum. The speculum gently opens the vaginal walls, allowing the healthcare professional to view the cervix and vaginal walls. This examination is usually painless, though you might experience slight discomfort.
If you suffer from vaginismus or are anxious about examinations, tell your Doctor this and book a longer appointment so they can take more time to explain the process, answer any questions you have and take steps to make you feel more at ease. Breathing exercises and having a friend or partner in the room for support can also help alleviate anxiety.
For people who have experienced sexual abuse, a vaginal exam may be triggering. If you have experienced trauma and anticipate this may be a trigger for you, it will assist your Doctor if you can disclose this to them before the examination so they can provide you with the appropriate care. You do not have to go into detail with your healthcare professional and can say something like "I have experienced sexual assault in the past and I anticipate a pelvic exam may be challenging or distressing for me". Many Doctors are trauma-informed and will take extra time and steps to provide you with choices and prioritise your physical and emotional wellbeing. During an examination, you can have a support person present and request to insert the speculum yourself. You also have the right to decline examinations and can ask if you can self-collect samples for testing.
Your healthcare professional's primary concern is your health and they will do their best to ensure your comfort throughout the process.
5. Seek a Second Opinion
If you're ever unsure about a diagnosis or treatment plan, don't hesitate to seek a second opinion. Getting multiple perspectives can provide you with a better understanding of your situation.
6. Know Your Rights
All patients have rights. These rights include the right to receive high-quality care and to have a healthcare advocate if you do not feel you can advocate for yourself. Read more about your rights at HealthDirect - Your Healthcare Rights.
- Health Direct - Your Healthcare Rights https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/your-healthcare-rights
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2020). Pelvic Examinations. acog.org.
- Gorfinkel I, Perlow E, Macdonald S. The trauma-informed genital and gynecologic examination. CMAJ. 2021 Jul 19;193(28):E1090. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.210331. PMID: 34281967; PMCID: PMC8315200.
- Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What Happens During a Gynecologist Visit? plannedparenthood.org.
- NSW Health - What is trauma-informed care? https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/psychosocial/principles/Pages/trauma-informed.aspx