I feel myself up quite regularly. It’s quite natural, really as most medical resources say I’m supposed to do a monthly breast self-examination starting after the age of 20. Granted, there was few-year period where I neglected my cancer detecting duties, but I can officially tell you I’m back on track.
I also regularly visit my gynecologist, which is not nearly as much fun as feeling myself up. In fact, the sight of that little three-by-five reminder card can downright put a damper on the day.
It’s not that I don’t like my gynecologist. She’s funny, color-coordinated and talks about sex like she’s deciding which shoes to wear. I’ve never been afraid to tell her if I’m feeling weird or have been having symptoms of anything.
I chose her for very specific reasons—the first being that she’s a she. Actually, that alone might be my top five reasons when I think about it.
I’ve tried the whole male gynecologist thing, and it just wasn’t for me. Contrary to the infinite wisdom of Rush Limbaugh, most women aren’t sluts, and the fewer men we have to show our hoohah off to, the better—even in a clinical setting. Not to mention, there are the fat days, the I-haven’t-shaved-anywhere-in-far-too-long days and the God-dammit-I-just-got-dressed days that can be downright uncomfortable sharing with a man you only see once a year.
And then there’s the actual pap smear test itself.
There really aren’t words to describe getting a pap smear?or the Babe?-Papanicolaou test for those of us with absolutely no life?but I suppose we can start with the name. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s possible to come up with a more disgusting and off-putting reference. When I think of my nether regions, the word “smear” doesn’t really have a place.
Then there’s a cold, stark room sporadically wallpapered with labeled diagrams of the human body and pamphlets about all the various types of STDs. And since doctors are so rarely punctual, there’s always plenty of time to reflect on what life would be like if those pamphlets applied to me. Of course, I’m already naked and cold while I’m contemplating all this loveliness because I was told to undress and wrap some tissue paper around my body that has the same softness as a toilet seat cover and might as well be the same size.
Next is a knock on the door and a stern-looking old man walks in. A cold handshake and brief, joyless introduction leads to sterile, papery hands that poke and prod my breasts before he tells me that everything looks fine in that department.
It’s now time to get a sample from down below. Can I get a “Yippee!”?
Up my feet go into metal, cloth-covered stirrups, and a million thoughts go through my head: Jesus, I really should’ve have shaved this morning. Do I smell? Does mine look “normal”? There’s a certain amount of freak out that occurs before I’m forced?for sanity’s sake?to detach myself from the situation. I lay my arm over my eyes and wait for it to be over.
Long before the end, though, there’s the infamous speculum—a tool I’ve fondly started calling the Jaws of Life. Under normal circumstances, the speculum is used to open the vaginal canal in order to swab for cell tissues. But by the time that shiny, metal beast is unveiled my vagina has clamped shut for business and I can actually hear it cussing me out.
For the record, the speculum is beak-like and unyielding in design, and applies a kind of sharp, pinching pressure that isn’t unbearable so much as it is truly uncomfortable. If you were to, say, see it on display as an accessory in the Museum of Torture, it wouldn’t require that much of a stretch to the imagination.
Since the biggest complaint we seem to get from our on-the-fence readers is, “Why? Why so much detail?” let me address that now:
I have written this to share with you what it’s like to be a mature, sexually responsible woman. I have sex because it is pleasurable and I love my partner. (That’s right, my darling Rick Santorum, I have yet to have sex for procreation purposes.) As a result, there are things I must do to take care of myself and him. It’s not exciting. It’s not fun. It’s not as carefree as they portray it in the movies, and it’s certainly not as happy-go-lucky as the porn industry has made it seem. This is real life in all of its awkward glory.
Anyway, I went through above routine for about three years. Cold handshakes, pokes and prods, feet go up, awkward silence, pressure, swab and then?at long last?it’s over. Let me be clear: I don’t think my doctor was a bad man; I simply could never get comfortable, emotionally or physically. And given that this is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life, I didn’t think that was right.
I’m not sure why it took so long for me to look for a new gynecologist. Mostly, it was the perceived ordeal and a bunch of excuses that turned me off of the search. After all, the one I had was so close to home and it was only once a year—couldn’t I just deal?
The more I thought about it, the answer was no. I came to this conclusion after contemplating what it would be like if I actually ever had a problem “down there” one day. Would I be able to talk to this man openly and honestly about my symptoms? Definitely not.
After searching high and low, reading reviews and asking friends, I eventually found a female gynecologist that I could relax around. For those out there considering a change, right here is a good place to start the search.
But at the end of the day, there is never an uncomfortable silence that fills the air, and I’m no longer looking for patterns in the ceiling stucco, imagining I was anywhere or anybody else. I can ask her anything without fear of judgment, and I don’t ever think, “Damn, I should’ve shaved” anymore.
Instead, I can focus on the real issues at hand—any abnormalities or bodily changes I’ve observed, or how the pill is affecting my sex drive, weight or mood. Basically, I’m there to check up on the health and wellbeing of me, and that’s it.
I acknowledge that some women simply don’t care if they’re seen by a male or female gynecologist. But if you’re dreading your appointment you might want to take a look into the reasons why. There are so many options available to us today, and there’s no reason to endure unnecessary stress if you’re unhappy.
Sex in San Diego, a column appearing every Friday here at The OB Rag, explores topics related to sex in America’s Finest City. To encourage openness while still respecting privacy, most authors will use pseudonyms.