Questions you might be too embarrassed to ask your gynecologist

Many of us have questions we’re too shy to ask our OB-GYNs — so in this episode of ITK: Hack the Cycle, host and co-founder of lifestyle period brand August Nadya Okamoto (@nadyaokamoto) does it for us. From dispelling myths about pap smears to understanding vaginal hygiene, Dr. Nicole Sparks, MD (@nicolealiciamd), gives Nadya the answers we’ve all been looking for.

First, Nadya takes to the streets of New York City to gather the public’s questions about gynecologists. “No topic is off-limits, and as they say, the only bad question is the one not asked,” she says. Then, Nadya passes the questions to board-certified OB-GYN Dr. Sparks for expert answers.

Question 1: What is an OB-GYN?

Dr. Sparks: “An OB-GYN stands for obstetrician and gynecologist. So the OB part means that we deliver babies, we get to bring beautiful babies into the world, and the gynecologist part is that we deal with everything with the reproductive system. So your vulva, the vagina, your ovaries, your uterus.”

Question 2: How often should I get a pap smear?

Dr. Sparks: “We do pap smears so we can actually test for cervical cancer, or for pre-cancerous cells. What most OB-GYNS will tell you is that we recommend a pap smear every three years starting at the age of 21. So a lot of people think they need pap smears as soon as they’re sexually active, but that’s not actually true.”

Question 3: I’m on my period. Should I reschedule to see my gynecologist?

Dr. Sparks: “The quick answer is no. You can still come on your period. I tell people, if you personally feel uncomfortable and you’re having really bad cramps and really heavy bleeding and you just don’t feel comfortable coming, then go ahead and reschedule. But you don’t have to reschedule on our part, we can still perform the pap smear.”

Question 4: What are some myths about pap smears?

Dr. Sparks: “I know pap smears scare everybody, but a lot of the time we’ll use the plastic speculums, which I think patients — I should say ‘enjoy’ — but they tolerate a little more. We don’t actually tug on the ovaries during the exam, though that’s probably what it feels like. But we do something called a bimanual exam where we actually place one hand in the vagina and one hand on the abdomen or pelvis, and we basically try to see if we feel any masses or anything that feels abnormal.”

Question 5: What’s the right way to wash yourself?

Dr. Sparks: “I love to tell people that the vagina is a ‘self-cleaning oven.’ It does not need your help, it does not require any extra assistance. So all you really need to clean the vagina is water. That’s it: Just water.”

Question 6: Why is there a weight limit with the morning after pill?

Dr. Sparks: “To clarify, there isn’t a weight limit. However, when they’ve done studies in the past, they did notice that Plan B was a little bit less effective if people were over a certain weight. And the more increase in weight, the less effective we know that it is. However, that does not mean that it’s not effective. The best thing that you can do is take the pill as soon as you need to take it.”

Question 7: What’s the deal with UTIs? How can you treat them?

Dr. Sparks: “A UTI is a urinary tract infection. The reason why it’s so common in women is because the urethra is really close to the anus. The best way to prevent this is to make sure you keep the area around the vagina nice and clean, make sure you wipe front-to-back, make sure that there’s no way any bacteria can enter into your vagina and your urethra.”

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