I recently corresponded with a young lesbian of color, age 27, who has never had a gynecological exam. I couldn't fathom why. When I asked her, she replied that she doesn't have sex with men, so there is no need. I have to say that I was shocked. Even though you are not having sex with men, it is extremely important to get your checkup! I realized that this sentiment is pretty prevalent among lesbians I have encountered.
Most doctors misdiagnose any pelvic pain as abdominal, intestinal or digestive issues. In most instances this is not the case. It could be an STI, an infection, cysts, fibroids or endometriosis. The worst-case scenario is early stages of cervical and/or ovarian cancer.
I experienced years of pain when I was younger, thinking that my menstrual cycle was changing and that my cramps were merely getting worse as I got older. I was wrong. I had bilateral ovarian cysts the size of grapefruits. I also had fibroids. I was popping Advil as if they were Tic Tacs. So not only was I in pain from my cysts, but I was also risking liver damage from the huge daily doses of pain relievers. Thankfully I got a second opinion and was able to diagnose the issue before it became worse.
We are often concerned about mostly trivial, superficial or cosmetic things regarding our vaginas. We take a shower or buy feminine hygiene products. We think that if she smells good, then she's healthy. But your vaginal health is very important to your overall health. Here are some things to remember regarding your vaginal health.
- Contrary to popular belief, changes in vaginal odor are not necessarily as simple as just taking a shower. This could actually be a sign of a more serious condition.
- You should schedule your exam 10 days after your menstrual cycle.
- You should not douche or use any perfumed soap or vaginal wash. If these are products that you use daily, then make sure to end their use up to three days prior to your visit.
- Do not have sex within 24 hours of your visit.
- Keep track of your last menstrual cycle, because your doctor will ask for the date.
- A female nurse should always be present in the room, especially if your doctor is male.
- If you experience pain during your exam, ask your doctor to use a child-sized speculum. It is smaller and more comfortable. They should always have one handy.
- Your doctor will examine your pelvic area, which includes your vulva, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and vagina.
- It is especially important for women of color to be examined regularly to monitor for cysts and fibroids.
- During the exam your provider will look for signs of infection and other conditions, including cervical cancer. Detecting problems early can help you get the treatment you need to keep you healthy.
- Even if you've had a partial or total hysterectomy, you must continue with the exams. It is still important to check for cervical cancer cells. Note that many in the medical field believe that regular gynecological exams are no longer necessary after hysterectomies. Personally I disagree. I'd much rather be safe than sorry.
- You can also ask your gynecologist to test you for STIs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, HIV and hepatitis.
- Your doctor will also conduct a breast exam.
- Make sure to mention to your doctor any aches or pains in your pelvic area, irregular periods, vaginal discharge, pain, swelling, change in odor, etc.
- If you are over the age of 40, a rectal exam is also performed. No, this part is not fun, but it is necessary.
- Most of the time there are no symptoms of cervical cancer, which is why it is so important to be checked regularly.
Stay healthy, and take care of yourselves, sistas!