A pelvic exam is where a doctor or nurse practitioner looks at a girl's reproductive organs (both outside and internally). During a pelvic exam, doctors or nurses also feel a girl's uterus and ovaries to be sure everything's normal.
Teens don't usually get pelvic exams. Sometimes doctors give girls pelvic exams if they think there's a problem. Otherwise, doctors don't recommend regular pelvic exams until a woman is in her early 20s.
A medical assistant or nurse will give you a robe to wear and a sheet to cover you. You'll be left alone to undress — either fully (if you're getting a breast exam as well) or from the waist down.
The doctor or nurse practitioner will come into the room and talk a bit about what to expect and why they're doing the exam. Then, you'll lie on the table so your behind is at the end of the table. You'll bend your knees and rest your feet in two stirrups, which are metal triangular loops that stick out from the end of the table. These might look a little scary, but they're just there to rest your feet in and keep you more comfortable.
The doctor will ask you to relax your knees out to the sides as far as they will go. It might feel a little funny to be lying with your legs opened like this, but everyone feels that way at first.
The doctor will put on gloves and examine the outside of your vagina to make sure that there are no sores or swelling and that everything looks OK on the outside.
The doctor will want to look at the inside of your vagina. She or he will use a speculum to gently widen the vagina. A speculum is a thin piece of plastic or metal with a hinged piece on one end that allows it to open and close. If the speculum is metal, the doctor or nurse will warm it to make it more comfortable. The doctor or nurse will let you know just before putting the speculum in your vagina.
Once the speculum is in place, the doctor or nurse will gently open it up. Putting in and opening the speculum shouldn't hurt. But some women say that it can cause a bit of pressure and discomfort.
Because the vagina is surrounded by muscles that can contract or relax, the exam can be more comfortable if you relax the muscles in that area. Try doing some breathing exercises or focusing on relaxing the vaginal muscles. Sometimes humming your favorite song or chatting to the doctor or nurse can distract you and help you feel more relaxed.
After the speculum is in place, the doctor or nurse practitioner will shine a light inside the vagina to look for anything unusual, like redness, swelling, discharge, or sores. The doctor may quickly wipe a cotton swab inside the vagina to collect a sample of mucus in order to test for infection, if necessary. The doctor or nurse will slide the speculum out as soon as the exam is done. This part of the exam only takes a minute or two.
The ovaries and uterus are so far inside a girl's body that they can't be seen — even using a speculum. The doctor or nurse will need to feel them to be sure they're the right size and free of cysts or other growths.
For this part of the exam, you'll keep your feet in the stirrups. The doctor or nurse will put lubricant on two fingers (still wearing the gloves) and slide them inside your vagina. Using the other hand, he or she will press on the outside of your lower abdomen (the area between your vagina and your stomach). You may feel a little pressure or discomfort. Again, it can help to relax your muscles and take slow, deep breaths.
The entire pelvic exam takes about 3 to 5 minutes.
It's best to schedule the exam for a time when you won't have your period, but that can be hard to predict because lots of girls have irregular periods at first. When you make the appointment, ask what to do if you get your period when you're supposed to come for your exam. Some doctors say it's OK to come for an exam if your period is just beginning or just ending and it's very light, but everyone has a different policy.
Your first pelvic exam can be a bit of a shock, but it helps to remember that each time it gets easier and easier to relax. No one loves the exam, but having a doctor or nurse practitioner you trust can really help.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) This site offers information on numerous health issues. The women's health section includes readings on pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, breast health, menopause, contraception, and more.|
|Pap Smears A Pap smear is a medical test that helps doctors figure out if there are any problems with a girl's cervix. Find out what happens during a Pap smear.|
|Breast Exams It's rare for teen girls to have breast problems. But sometimes a doctor or nurse might think a breast exam is a good idea. Find out why, as well as what's involved in a breast exam.|
|Do You Need a Pelvic Exam to Get Birth Control? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Why Does a Gynecologist Ask About Your Last Period? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Is a Gynecologist the Same as a Primary Care Doctor? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|What Can I Expect From the Gynecologist? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Does My Mom Have to Be in the Room During My Gyn Exam? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|When Is it Time to Start Seeing a Gynecologist? Find out what the experts have to say.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.