Vulvas Are Her Business!
I have had the same family physician since I was a girl. He saw me through chicken pox, booster shots, and many a childhood ear infection. When I was a teenager he started to ask me all the normal sexual health questions. Being a very late bloomer I always shyly answered no and then admitted that I was still a virgin.
In my early 20’s, hearing all my friends talk about the dreaded Pap smear I asked my Doc about the test. He told me that I didn’t really need one until I started to be sexually active however, I should probably have one at the age of 25 regardless. Relieved I put the test off and out of my mind. Cut to August of 2009, I am about to leave to study in France for a year. I schedule a check – up and prepare myself mentally for yet another right of passage in the “You’re a woman now” saga.
Side bar: Do you ever notice how becoming a woman SUCKS but becoming a man is the greatest thing in the world? There is a look that older women (and lord help us all, the occasional older man) give girls when they’re coming of age; their head tilts to one side, their eyes go all glassy and with a sentimental sound somewhere between pity and foreboding these words escape their mouths, “You’re becoming a woman.”
You bleed every month for the next 40ish years; Congratulations, “You’re becoming a woman!” You have to wear a tight uncomfortable thing around your chest to make your tits not painfully flop everywhere; Congratulations! “You’re becoming a woman!”
You can no longer walk to the store by yourself because …Congratulations, “You’re becoming a woman!”
Men on the other hand get something completely different; either everyone pretends not to notice OR they get congratulatory high fives as a sort of welcome to the club! Plus they seem to get WAY more freedom with no warning talks.
… I digress…
Anyhow, I decided to go into my check-up with a solid plan of attack. I would ask my doctor to refer me to a Gynecologist—A woman Gynecologist! Vulvas would be her business, not a passing hobby that she dabbled in because med school said she had to. Preferably she would be a bit younger and therefore considerate of my nerves. She would explain what she was going to do before she did it. She would have a warm dimly lit examination room. The soothing sounds of Enya would play softly in the background. The sweet smell of Chapters Winter White candles would fill the air and a replica painting of Monet’s water lilies would hang on the ceiling. (Ok I knew the last parts would probably not be the case but one can dream!)
Still a virgin, my sexuality at the time was something that baffled me. Friends would ask me all the time if I was gay? Not offensively, not confrontationally, just ask. I really did not know how to answer the question…nobody who was born in the early 80's wanted to be gay but at the same time I knew I did not feel the same way about my girlfriends as my peers did. BUT if there was one thing I knew for sure it was that I did not trust a man anywhere near my vagimjam!
The following is what transpired when I asked my Doctor to refer me to a gynecologist:
Me: Yes I would like to be referred to a female Gynecologist
Doc: (mildly taken back) Of course.
Smiling, I exhaled a small sigh of relief through my nose…Then…
Doc: (Hesitantly) I’m sure I could get a nurse or another female Dr. at the hospital to do it?
See the problem with free health care is that you get what you get and its super hard to get anything else! So with one fell swoop my dream Pap went poof! Suddenly I was picturing hospital waiting rooms and a surly nurse who had not slept in 24 hours having to do a Pap on me because of my trust issues towards men. My need for comfort suddenly felt selfish and decadent and before I knew it I heard myself say, “Ugh, ok fine, I guess we can just do it here!”
Cut to 10 mins later, in a cold exam room, where I have been weighed, measured, squeezed, groped, and tapped. The only thing left to do is the Pap. I get myself situated on the exam table, feet in stirrups, ass hanging off the end, vag on display! "Ok," I thought, "perhaps this will not be too bad." I started to recall one of my oldest memories of my doctor: lying on this exact examination table when I was a toddler. He was coming at me with scissors to remove some stitches from just beneath my nose. I was terrified and crying even though my mom and him had both reassured me that stitches don’t hurt when they come out. Nonetheless I continued to wail until it was over in complete disbelief. After the whole ordeal, while sucking on my lollipop, I felt foolish because it absolutely did not hurt at all, perhaps today was going to be like that day?
Doc: I’m going to insert the speculum.
Today was not that day.
Me: Ow OW!
Me: OW, OW, OW!
He stops to lubricate the utensil and says, “Well we are not supposed to use lubricant because it can tamper with the results but I think I’ll make an exception.” Seriously?! They haven’t come up with some type of sterile lubricant that doesn’t show up on this test? They haven’t invented a better test that can, I don’t know, tell the difference between the inconsistencies of my vaginal insides and coconut oil? Women all around the world have been doing this test for decades sans LUBE!?!?
Doc: Alright and I’m going to insert it again.
This time however, he leans in firmly with his body. It was akin to that feeling when a chiropractor uses their weight to crack your back! As you can imagine my response was… “AAAAHH-OOOOOOWWWWW!” And it was definitely said loud enough so that the people in the waiting room could hear. What my Doc said next was probably one of the most shocking responses I have ever gotten to date. A bit flustered and clearly nervous he backs away and says, “I’m sorry, hmmm? Maybe I should use the smaller speculum?” THERE IS A SMALLER SPECULUM?!?! And you didn’t think to start with that on your small barely lost her virginity patient? No, wait, hang on… on any patient? What human with a vulva walks into their Drs office and says “You know what? I’m feeling loose today lets go with the big one!”??? But hey what do I know, perhaps it happens?
So the smaller speculum gets inserted, I feel my insides go scrape, he removes the speculum and with my feet still in the stirrups he walks around to stand beside me. He then LEANS ONE ELBOW ON MY KNEE and asks, “Is sex painful?” As if sensing that my response was going to be "no you turd! Most people warm me up first!" he quickly says, “You know, if you just stick a couple fingers in there everyday and give it a good tug on either side you can really stretch it out and it will be a lot less painful.”
I lay there flabbergasted, completely incapable of processing the last 15 minutes of my life. It was not until I was dressed and back in the hallway carrying the bottle of my insides up to the lab on a different floor that it occurred to me to call my mother. I explain to her what just happened and she says, “Oh yeah, that’s normal. He said the same thing to me. Come to think of it I’m pretty sure he told Gran to stretch out hers as well!”
Perhaps some of you reading this have not yet received your first Pap smear OR perhaps you have only had painful experiences. I want you to know that your comfort level when dealing with your body, especially in dealing with things being inserted into your body, is not an extravagance. There is absolutely no reason why a Pap test should be so painful that you need to say the word ‘OW’ out loud. I have since had several other exams that were not a problem at all. Trust your gut, educate yourself on what’s out there, and don’t settle for anything less than the type of care you want.