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At some point, every woman has had something going on with her vagina that she feels a little (or a lot) embarrassed about. So if you’ve noticed a weird smell coming from down there, seen odd-looking discharge, felt some itching, or experienced painful dryness during sex, your gut reaction might be to keep it to yourself. After all, just imagining talking about it with your doctor probably makes your face get all hot. If so, you’re not alone.
“Many women are so self-conscious about their vagina,” says Rebecca C. Brightman, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “You grow up having certain topics taboo to talk about—sex, menstruation, pregnancy, contraception—and it can be hard to overcome that.”
But here’s the thing: If you don’t bring up these kinds of issues, you might force yourself to live with a nagging issue that is actually easy to fix. Or worse, you could fail to catch something serious early on, when it’s easier to treat.
While it might be tempting, don’t just sit there waiting for your doctor to broach an embarrassing topic. “We aren’t mind-readers,” says Dr. Brightman. “There are hundreds of questions we could go through with our patients, so don’t wait for us to ask.”
You also shouldn’t rely on a Google search to figure out what’s going on. “There is so much misinformation out there and many symptoms could mean different things,” says Dr. Brightman. “Like when you get to menopause, you can have dryness and bleed a little after sex. But searching online for postmenopausal bleeding can make you worry you have cancer.”
Knowing why you should say something still doesn’t make doing it any easier. That’s where these tips come in. Try them out the next time you have something awkward to bring up to your doctor.
Remember: Your OBGYN does this all day long.
It’s one thing to bring up something embarrassing to a random person, or even to a friend or family member, but your OBGYN is a professional who has already heard whatever you’re about to say.
“Realize you aren’t being judged in the doctor’s office,” says Dr. Brightman. “This is what we’ve been trained to do.”
Know you aren’t the only one with this concern.
“Many women with symptoms or physical findings think they’re unusual,” says Dr. Brightman. “I’m always happy when women bring things up because I get to reassure them that it’s normal.”
Rehearse the conversation beforehand.
If you’re especially embarrassed or nervous about an upcoming conversation with your doctor, try saying the symptoms out loud at home before you get to the office. Speaking the words “I’ve noticed sex has become more painful lately” a few times alone can make you less nervous to say them in front of your OBGYN.
Email your doctor ahead of time.
A lot of people find it can be less embarrassing to write something down than say it out loud, which is why it’s so great that most doctors have online patient portals with direct messaging functions.
“I’ve had patients email me and give me a heads-up that something is a concern and they want to talk about it during the appointment,” says Dr. Brightman. “When I bring it up, all the patient has to say is: Did you get my email?”
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