Today I’m breaking down the steps and significance of a pelvic exam in a plain language guide for you. This is a resource designed to provide clarity and assurance, ensuring that as a woman, you’re well-informed and empowered when it comes to your health.

Part One – The External Examination

The first phase of a pelvic exam involves your doctor closely looking at the outside of your genitalia, known as the vulva. It’s a bit like a detailed inspection, but all you need to do is lie back and relax (I know that is hard to do sometimes!).

Why It’s Important

Your doctor is checking for anything that seems unusual. This could be signs of infection, skin conditions, or even indications of other health concerns.

What You Might Feel

Most women don’t feel anything unusual. It’s purely a visual examination; there should be no discomfort during this portion of the pelvic exam.

What the Doctor Looks For

Your doctor is monitoring for any abnormalities, which might include:

  • Changes in skin color or texture
  • Swelling
  • Any signs of leaking fluid

Part Two – The Speculum Examination

The speculum exam is one that many women find the most apprehensive about. But, knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the anxiety.

The Setup

When it’s time for the speculum, the doctor will gently separate the labia and slide a lubricated, smooth, plastic or metal device called a speculum into your vagina. Once inside, the speculum is carefully opened to allow the doctor to see inside your vaginal walls.

The View

This part allows the doctor to view the cervix and the upper portion of your vagina. It looks a bit like a telescope. This is where they might take samples for a Pap smear test or look for other issues. You may feel some pressure or mild discomfort, but it should not be painful.

How Long Does It Take?

The entire procedure is remarkably swift. In less than a minute, the speculum is in and out, and the examination is complete.

How to Make the Speculum Exam Suck Less

If you are apprehensive about this part of the pelvic exam, here are some tips to keep in mind.

  1. Ask for the narrow speculum that will still allow the provider to see what they need to.
  2. Ask if your doctor can use a temperature neutral material. This might be a plastic or special polymers (temp neutral) or your provider should be able to warm a metal one.
  3. You can ask for a little bit of lubricant to make insertion easier.
  4. Slow deep breathing helps relax the pelvic floor muscles. Try it!
  5. Communicate with your provider. Tell them you are nervous. Know that your provider should ask your permission. Ask them to walk you through it and remember you are in charge!

Part Three – The Bimanual Examination

The bimanual exam can feel a bit invasive if you’re not prepared, so it’s beneficial to understand the purpose.

The Process

With gloves and lubricant (and your permission), your doctor will insert two fingers into your vagina and place the other hand on your abdomen. This allows them to check the size and shape of your uterus and ovaries.

What’s Being Checked

They’ll gently press down on your abdomen to feel where your internal organs are located. You may feel the pressure but it shouldn’t be painful. They’re assessing:

  • The size, shape, and position of your uterus
  • The condition of your ovaries


Once the doctor has completed these three examinations, you’re all good to go. Your doctor should provide you with their findings and any necessary next steps.

What to Do If You Feel Uncomfortable

Your comfort is crucial. If any part of the examination causes you pain that feels beyond mild discomfort, don’t hesitate to tell your doctor. Ongoing communication enhances your relationship with your healthcare provider and ensures you’re well-cared for. We want you to tell us if you’re nervous!

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