The red tide pays you a visit on the day of your doctor’s appointment, and you wonder: Can you go to the gyno on your period? Or, even more important, can you get a Pap smear or pelvic exam on your period? When it’s that time of the month, seeing your gynecologist might be the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, your gyno really doesn’t care if you’re on your period or not, and we’ll explain why below.
Besides worrying about having your period when you’re lying on the examination table, your mind might be racing with self-conscious thoughts from Why didn’t I get a bikini wax before coming here? to Why am I sweating so much? and Do I smell?
Chances are while you’re stuck in those stirrups stressing out, your doctor isn’t giving it a second thought.
Here are 10 things gynecologists say are totally NBD when you come in for an exam:
1. You’re on your period during the exam.
When you book your gyno appointment months in advance, you can’t necessarily control whether your period will land on the same day. If—lucky you!—your period and your check-up coincide, don’t sweat it. “If you can’t go to your gynecologist on your period, then who can you go to?” Leena Nathan, M.D., obstetrician-gynecologist at UCLA Health-Westlake Village, tells SELF. “We’re used to bleeding.”
Just be aware that in some cases, having a Pap smear on your period may make it harder to get a clear test result, but that doesn’t mean you should skip your appointment. “If you’re having a Pap smear on your period, I’ll try to swipe away the blood and do the Pap,” says Dr. Nathan. “If it comes back inconclusive, you may have to come back. But rarely would we advise patients to cancel their appointment just for that reason.”
2. You didn’t shave your legs or get a bikini wax.
You may feel self-conscious about body hair, but your gyno truly doesn’t care and may not even notice. “Patients always mention that they haven’t shaved,” Dr. Nathan says. “I don’t notice. I’m more interested in the health of the patient. They should not have to worry about mentioning that they haven’t shaved or waxed.”
3. You’re worried about how you smell down there.
As you scoot down on the examination table with your legs in stirrups, it’s hard not to wonder and worry about what you smell like, especially if you’ve started to sweat because you’re nervous. “Women are obsessed with how much they’re perspiring when they’re in my office, thinking, ‘Does it smell down there?'” Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and coauthor of The Complete A to Z For Your V, tells SELF. “I appreciate it if someone doesn’t come to the office straight out of a CrossFit class or having not showered in four days, but in general I really don’t notice it much.”
4. You have (gasp) discharge.
“Women often think they should be completely dry except for before or during sexual relations,” says Dr. Dweck. “But many women have discharge—some have it more than others—and that’s completely normal.”
However, if your discharge is greenish or yellowish in color, frothy, has a strong fishy odor or a cottage cheese-like consistency, or is accompanied by discomfort like itching, those are signs of a problem like a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV). If you’re confused about what’s going on, see a doctor.
5. Your Pap smear comes back abnormal.
No one likes to get an abnormal test result, but an abnormal Pap smear is usually nothing to worry about. Abnormal Pap smears are usually caused by human papillomavirus. Also known as HPV, it’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. Eighty million people currently have HPV in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the majority of cases your body’s immune system wipes out HPV, according to the American Cancer Society. But in rare cases, the virus can persist and develop into cervical cancer along with cancers affecting other body parts like the penis, anus, vagina, vulva, mouth, and throat. “It’s a slow-acting [group of viruses],” says Dr. Dweck, and the chances of HPV evolving into cancer are “very, very low.”
Your doctor may ask you to come back for another Pap in a year to see if you still get an abnormal result, or they may give you an HPV DNA test to make sure that’s what you’re dealing with. Or if your abnormal Pap result showed signs of precancerous cells, your doctor may recommend a procedure like a colposcopy (cervical biopsy) to learn more. Here’s everything you need to know about an abnormal Pap smear and what comes next.
6. Your menstrual cycle has changed.
If your old reliable cycle has started to shift by a couple of days you may worry that something is wrong, but period changes are more common than you’d think. “I have patients coming in all of the time saying, ‘I have always had a five-day period and now I have a three-day or a seven-day period,'” Leah Millheiser, director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University Medical Center, M.D., tells SELF. But what’s “normal” for your period can change over time.
Anything from stress to weight fluctuations to hormonal changes can trigger this. However if your period becomes really irregular or you’re skipping periods, get checked out by your gyno to rule out a possible health problem, such as PCOS.
7. You’re sleeping with more than one person.
If you’re single and sexually active with multiple partners, are having an affair, or suspect your partner is having one, sharing that uber-personal information with your gyno can be, well, awkward. But keep in mind that your doctor isn’t there to judge you (and if they do, that’s a sign that it’s time to find a new one if possible). Your gyno needs to know that pertinent information so they can make sure you’re using the best methods to both prevent sexually transmitted infections and an unwanted pregnancy.
“[Your] number of sexual partners isn’t anything to be embarrassed about,” says Dr. Nathan. Adds Dr. Dweck: “It’s important to know that in general gynecologists—especially ones who have been in practice for a while—are there to do a job and not judge anything.”
8. You have piercings or tattoos down there.
“Sometimes women will say: I don’t want to be examined because I have a piercing or tattoo down there,” says Dr. Dweck. “But we’re not here to judge; we just want to make sure you’re caring for things properly.” Having a piercing or tattoo on your nether regions can come with risks like infection or an allergic reaction, so it’s important to be open with your doc and let them examine you.
9. You’re dealing with vaginal dryness or a low sex drive.
Both of these issues can be embarrassing to talk about, but it’s important to bring them up with your gyno. “These are things we want to hear about,” says Dr. Dweck. Dryness and low sex drive can affect adults of all ages, she explains, so don’t let concerns that you’re “too young” for something like that keep you from seeking help. Your doc can help figure out what’s going on so you can start to feel better.
10. You sometimes miss a few birth control pills.
If you’re taking birth control pills, chances are good that your doc will ask about how consistent you are about taking them. (Or how consistent you are with swapping out other forms of contraception when you should, like the vaginal ring.) Be honest! “Everyone always worries about this, but it’s totally normal to forget to take a pill once in a while,” says Dr. Dweck.
The point in telling your doctor you’re having issues with your pills (or any other type of birth control) isn’t so they can reprimand you, but so they can help you determine if it’s really the best method for you. For example, if you’re forgetting to take the progestin-only birth control pill (also called the minipill) within the same three-hour window every day, you’re really messing with its level of protection. Talking that over with your doctor can help you decide if another type of contraception will be easier to incorporate into your life. Remember, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Gynecologists truly have seen all of this before!