While they’re not your therapist, an OB-GYN has a great medical impact on your health, comfort-level, everyday happiness and reproductive longevity. Their advice can help shape your contraception decisions and the choices you make surrounding family planning. They can also spot potentially life-threatening illnesses or diseases before they become dangerous.
That’s exactly why having an open, candid and honest relationship with your OB-GYN is not only recommended, but required. Where does that begin? By not being afraid to ask some important questions at your next Pap smear (or whenever a health issue occurs).
Here, OB-GYNs share the questions you should never be afraid to ask during your appointment:
1. What’s your practice style and how accessible are you?
A doctor’s bedside manner varies greatly depending on their own personality, medical school training and preferences. While there’s not a Tinder for doctors, discovering a doctor that you’re compatible with is essential to making informed decisions about your health.
That’s why Dr. Daniel Jacobson, an OB-GYN specializing in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado, suggested asking what they believe and how available they are for your needs.
“This question really gives a chance for your OB-GYN doctor to discuss what's important to them in a physician-patient relationship, and make sure it fits with your outlook as a patient,” he explained. “My personal style is to be available to speak with my patients directly regarding results and addressing issues or concerns."
2. What is the best contraception for me?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 62 percent of women of reproductive age currently use contraception, with the birth control pill the most common method. If that daily iPhone reminder to pop your pill gives you a sense of dread, or is causing hormonal issues or discomfort, you should work with your doctor to discover an alternative method.
More importantly, if you don't always remember to pop that pill, you should confess your forgetfulness ASAP. Why? As Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, explained, your OB-GYN is there to help guide your choices and recommend what works best with your lifestyle and relationship status.
"I ask my patients what the most important feature for contraception is for them so I can provide the best recommendation," she said. "If they are not in a monogamous relationship, I would also talk to them about using the most effective form of contraception such as the IUD, but also using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections." And though pills are the most common, Rodriguez said the IUD is less work and more effective, since it isn't susceptible to human error. It can also help with other issues — like painful or heavy periods and hormonal sensitivities.
3. Is this itching normal?
Instead of consulting Google or Siri, Rodriguez suggested you bring up the topic — stat — with your gyno. “Many times, women assume itching is normal and self-treat with yeast... There are some relatively common vulvar skin conditions that can also cause itching, and changes to the skin that can be easily treated once the diagnosis is made,” she explained.
4. What’s the difference between a pelvic exam and a Pap smear?
“It is important to understand the difference between a pelvic exam and Pap test because guidelines and screening options are different," said Dr. Michael Randell, an OB-GYN at Emory Saint Joseph’s hospital. The current cervical guidelines recommend women ages 21 to 29 receive a Pap test every three years. For women ages 30-65, screening with Pap and HPV is recommended every three to five years, he explained.
5. Am I up-to-date on my health screenings?
Depending on your age, you might need more screenings to protect your reproductive health than you realize. With a quick check, your OB-GYN can see what you’re due for, based on past conditions and your family history. “Guidelines for common screenings like those for cervical cancer and breast cancer have changed in recent years, which means you may not need some screenings as often,” Randell said. “I encourage women to know which screenings are necessary and at what intervals they are needed.”
6. What do you need to know about my sexual history?
Regardless if you’re currently sexually active or not, your doctor needs to understand what you’re at risk of contracting and how to keep you healthy and safe. Especially with sexually transmitted infection screenings, the facts matter significantly.
“You don’t need to pour your heart out to me about every sexual encounter you’ve had since we last saw each other, but it’s important for gynecologists to have an accurate idea of your sexual history so we can determine what STI screenings you may need. And don’t just assume you’re being screened for all STIs automatically. What STIs you should be screened for is based on a certain risk factors,” Randell explained.
7. How can I protect my fertility?
As more women delay becoming mothers, having a honest discussion about fertility health and reproductive options becomes more important. After all, if you do want a family one day, Dr. Mira Aubchon, OB-GYN at the Missouri Center for Reproductive Medicine, said the first person to talk to about family planning — other than your partner — is your gyno.
“Many patients experience isolation and shame when it comes to discussing their fertility desires, especially if they are having difficulty, and may be reluctant to discuss these even with their OB-GYN. But it is of crucial importance because there is a limited window of time in a woman’s life that pregnancy may be expected to occur,” she noted.
8. I’m not orgasming with sex, can you help?
If you’re truly struggling or noticing a discrepancy from past sexual experiences, don’t be shy to talk to your gyno.
"Studies show it is the rare woman who brings this up to her physician, and it is the rarer physician that brings it up to her patient. However, after libido, inability to have an orgasm is the second most common type of sexual dysfunction, and in most cases there is a solution,” explained Dr. Lauren Streicher, OB-GYN and associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school and author of "Sex RX: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever."
“Medications or medical problems that inhibit blood flow, create pain, or compromise neurologic pathways are common culprits. If your doctor doesn’t have a solution, ask them for a referral to a sexual medicine expert who has an expertise in sexual problems," said Streicher.
9. My breasts are not the same size, is that normal?
According to Dr. Gil Weiss, OB-GYN and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, you will not definitely be the first person to ask about your "ladies."
“Although we commonly perceive our bodies to be symmetric, asymmetry is also very prevalent. Our feet are regularly of different sizes and even our eyes are slightly of varying sizes. The same goes for breast size,” he explained. “We know that breast size can change according to where a women is in her cycle. The most important caveat has to do with new onset swelling— any sudden change in breast size requires an immediate call to your doctor to rule out malignancy.”
10. I pee when I exercise - what’s going on?
Though you might not associate your OB-GYN with your daily workout habit, your health down there is just as important as how fast you can run, how many squats you can do or how much you can lift. If you’re noticing a leakage problem, Weiss suggested bringing it up at your next visit.
“Although urinary incontinence is a very common problem, it is definitely something that is rarely talked about. Most patients feel too embarrassed to discuss this,” he noted. “Once the topic is brought up, we can discuss the different modes of treatment..."
No question is too small or silly to ask, so speak up! Take control of your health and your body by asking the right questions and getting the answers you need.