Along with dread from the obvious discomfort, the annual trip to the gynecologist is often met with anxiety. Is everything normal down there? Should I be worried about cervical cancer? What’s the deal with that lingering bump? OMG—is it an STI? Speaking up about an itchy bump, strange smell, or a nonexistent libido is no doubt uncomfortable, but gynecologists cannot stress its importance enough. Though it may seem embarrassing, docs ensure us that there is no such thing as a stupid or shocking question when it comes to the health of your lady parts. Here are some important questions gynecologists wish their patients were less reluctant to ask. Take note for your next visit.
“Why am I having such a hard time losing weight?”
At first thought, this might not seem like a question for someone who is an expert in human sexuality, but in many cases your OB/GYN can serve as your primary care provider. “If your BMI is greater than 25, your doctor can discuss possible medical causes and the potential consequences of excess weight to your overall health and risk for certain cancers,” explains Brandye Wilson-Manigat, M.D., an OB-GYN in Pasadena, California. “In addition, he or she may be able to recommend some strategies to increase your metabolism and decrease your weight in a healthy and safe manner.”
“There is cancer in my family. Should I have genetic testing?”
If you have a strong family history of breast, ovarian, uterine, colon, or melanoma this should be reviewed with your doctor. “Based on your personal history or family cancer pattern, genetic screening for cancer-related genes may be offered to help you make decisions about further testing and intervention,” says Kameelah Phillips, M.D., an OB-GYN in New York City. “There are significant implications to this type of testing and your gynecologist can help you make decisions regarding your risk factors.”
“Is my discharge normal?”
This is certainly not the most comfortable topic of conversation, but your gynecologist can help differentiate what’s normal from what’s not better than a quick Google search. “The vagina is equipped with over 30 organisms that help keep it pH balanced and free of infection,” explains Sherry Ross, M.D., an OB-GYN in Santa Monica, California and author of She-ology. “These organisms produce secretions to naturally cleanse the vagina, much like the mouth does with saliva and the eyes do with tears.” Depending on the time of month, it is normal for vaginal discharge to change in consistency, texture, and smell. “It helps to know what your range of ‘normal’ is to avoid the unnecessary use of soaps, douches, and creams meant to correct what you perceive is a problem,” adds Dr. Phillips.
“Is it normal for PMS to cause intense irritability or depression?”
Emotional upheaval is commonly associated with PMS. “Symptoms can include extreme depression, fits of anger and overwhelming anxiety,” says Dr. Ross. “Crying spells, angry outbursts and feelings of worthlessness are all part of the mood swings that typically occur one to two weeks before your period.” If the emotional chaos ends at the start of your period, there is no cause for concern. But if these emotional changes continue beyond your period, Dr. Ross notes that this may suggest more concern of an underlying psychological dysfunction that should be discussed with your doc.
“Do I clean my vagina or not?”
This is one of the most controversial topics when it comes to vaginal health. Shelves are lined with products for feminine hygiene, but we are often told to avoid these aisles and let our lady parts self-cleanse. “You may have heard that the vagina is ‘self-cleaning’ and it sort of is, but using fragrance-free soap and water on the vagina is okay, safe, and recommended,” says Dr. Ross. “As a gynecologist, I suggest that you clean your vulva and labia every day as if it were any other part of your body.” Her suggested method: Using two fingers, swipe your knuckles along the labia with a gentle, non-fragrant soap. Avoid scented cleansers and cloths, freshening sprays and talc powders.
“Where can I find my G-spot?”
“There is an ongoing debate as to whether the G-spot actually exists,” says Dr. Ross. “For those believers, myself included, the G-spot is located one to three inches on the top or anterior surface of the vagina. When a woman is sexually aroused, the G-spot fills with blood, giving it a swollen feeling.” Dr. Ross notes that not all women respond sexually to stimulation of this area, so don’t worry if you’ve tried and failed to locate it. “It is not a magic button, rather another avenue in achieving sexual pleasure,” she says.
“Can I get pimples on my vagina?”
“Like the face, the vagina has sweat glands and hair follicles that are prone to dirt buildup,” explains Dr. Ross. That’s why it’s important to keep the area fresh and dry. Make sure the skin is clean before hair removal, whether you use a razor or wax. To helps prevent acne and ingrown hairs during the regrowth process, exfoliate the skin on the days following hair removal.
Photo: megaflopp/iStock Images by Getty
“Why am I losing my hair?”
Throughout different stages of your life, your hair growth—and loss—will change. This isn’t only true as you get older. Hair loss can be attributed to stress, low blood count, hormonal shifts and pregnancy. “With all the hormonal changes that happen during the postpartum hormonal storm, temporary hair loss is often seen,” says Dr. Ross. Don’t worry: Within six to 12 months after having a baby, your hair growth should be back to normal. Dr. Ross recommends that patients continue taking prenatal vitamins during the postpartum period to help support your metabolism and immune system.
“What can I do to handle my stress?”
Stress can be the cause of many problems that bring you in to see the OB-GYN in the first place, says Dr. Wilson-Manigat. In fact, things like abdominal or pelvic pain, abnormal changes in your period, and hair loss can all be attributed to stress. “There are often physical causes for these symptoms, however, after talking with you and doing an examination, your OB-GYN may determine that what you are experiencing is due to stress,” she says. “He or she can then suggest ways of decreasing your stress, like regular exercise, deep breathing exercises, meditation, aromatherapy, journaling, or some other form of creative expression.”
“I am considering pregnancy. Is there anything I need to do to prepare?”
Many women are surprised to learn that pregnancy health starts well before conception. In fact, OB-GYNs recommend optimizing your health—no smoking, less drinking, maintaining a healthy weight—at least six months before you try to conceive. “There is a preconception care checklist that includes meeting with a health care provider six month ahead of time to see if you and your partner are physically and mentally ready to have a healthy pregnancy,” explains Dr. Ross. “Part of this visit will include going over your medical, family, and genetic history, discussing medications you are taking, and determining any harmful habits.” She also recommends starting a prenatal vitamin with folic acid three to six months before pregnancy to ensure optimal health for you and baby-to-be.
“Can I get pregnant on my period?”
The short answer is yes. “If you have a short interval between each period—meaning you ovulate early in the cycle—you can get pregnant,” explains Dr. Ross. “Many people don’t realize that sperm lives for three days. If you have sex on day six of your period and ovulate on day nine, you could get pregnant.” So, while this may sound like a question from grade school sex education, the answer is more complicated and can be explained best by your doctor.
“What’s that smell?”
You know the whole “you are what you eat” adage? It relates to all things having to do with your body, including your V. Sudden changes in smell can likely be attributed to what you are consuming. “Pungent foods, spices and alcohol take a fast lane through our bodies and into vaginal secretions, creating especially intense smells in the genital area,” explains Dr. Ross, adding that nicotine is a detectable flavor in urine as well. Consider consuming fresh fruits and veggies, probiotic-rich Greek yogurt and plenty of water if you’re feeling rather self-conscious. However, if your odor changes drastically or turns “fishy,” this may be a sign of an infection.
“I’ve lost all sexual desire—what’s going on?”
There are many reasons for a low libido—from balancing work and family commitments to changes in medication (particularly antidepressants and birth control) and hormones. Or, it may just be a result of settling into a long-term relationship. Dr. Ross urges that you speak up about your sex life, or lack thereof, during appointments. “Since this is a complicated and confusing subject, it’s important to find a healthcare provider you feel comfortable with in order to better understand how you can find your sexual appetite again.”