The day you’ve been dreading has finally arrived, and you’re most likely anxious as your palms are sweaty and knees are shaking because it’s time for your first gynecologist (gyno) visit. This experience may be compared to when a woman gets her first period, or buys her first bra, except this time, it’s more invasive and has to do with your lady parts, specifically your vagina. Before you walk into the clinic and open your legs to a world of stirrups and Pap smears, put your anxiety aside and relax with this step-by-step gynecology exam guide that will help you take control of your body and your health as a woman.

Pre-Gyno Visit

Choose Your Gyno

Before you call the closest gyno near you, it’s important to do your research, ask your friends, look at reviews, and try to find a doctor that is right for you. “The first GYN visit should not be viewed with apprehension,” Dr. Georges Sylvestre, board certified in obstetrics and gynecology in New York, maternal-fetal medicine and assistant professor, Weill Cornell Medical College, told Medical Daily in an email. “Do you prefer a female doc?” “Do you prefer a doctor who can speak your first language?” “Do you need a doctor who can relate to important cultural issues about sex and womanhood?” “If you find the right doctor, he or she might the one you'll go to for your birth control in your teens and twenties, pregnancies and babies in your 30's and forties, then for your menopause,” he said.

Go Back in Time

After you choose your gyno, it’s important for you to go back in time and think about your sexual history and menstrual history. The number of partners, the age you started having sex, and how you prevent pregnancy/sexually transmitted diseases is all relevant information you should tell your gyno. Ladies, it’s also important to keep track of your menstrual cycle by recording your last period, the length of your periods, how heavy and frequent they are, and if you experience any period-related problems like cramps. Dr. Sara Mornar, obstetrician and gynecologist in Texas, tells Medical Daily women should be prepared to share their medical background and menstrual and contraceptive information with their doctor.

To Shave or Not to Shave?

The age-old question of whether to shave or not to shave your hoo-hah has crossed the minds of many women before their first gyno visit. Before you schedule a bikini wax, or run to the pharmacy to stock up on razors and shaving cream, it’s important to know there is no need to shave before seeing your gyno. Gynecologists do not expect their patients to shave their vulva since pubic hair is not as dense as the hair on the scalp, and it can easily be moved aside during the examination.

The only expectation your gyno has is to practice basic hygiene — take a shower or a bath within 24 hours. Women should not use spermicide, medications, lubricants, or douche a day before the exam because this could interfere with the accuracy of a Pap test. The night before the exam is not an ideal time to get busy between the sheets, either. Intercourse without a condom the night before a Pap smear may obscure cervical cells which then cannot be read accurately.

The Waiting Room

So you’ve made it this far and have managed to stir up the courage to bare your hoo-hah to your gyno for the very first time. The waiting room is similar to any visit at the doctors' where the receptionist will hand you a pile of forms to fill out. Questions range from the number of sexual partners you’ve had (if any) to the date of your last period. It’s important to answer these questions carefully and honestly so your gyno can accurately assess you and keep track of your health. This information stays confidential between your gyno and you.

Behind Closed Doors: The Exam Room

The most frightening part of your first gyno visit has arrived — going into the exam room. If you’re still nervous at this point, tell your nurses and doctors and let them know it’s your first time, so they can guide you step-by-step on the procedure. Like a regular doctor’s visit, the nurse will take your height, weight, and blood pressure.

After the basics, you will be left alone to change into a gown as you remove all your clothing – including your underwear. The doctor will shortly knock on your door and will ask you a series of questions ranging from if you’re sexually active to your periods and how long they last. Your gyno will even ask you if you want to have an STD or HIV/AIDs testing on the day of your first gyno exam, too.

Breast Exam

During a gyno exam, your doctor will ask you to lay back and check your breast and underarms for any lumps. According to Woman’s Hospital your gyno will check for breast abnormalities that include lumps, nipple discharge, and skin changes. Women should do breast self-exams regularly, and if you’re not sure how to do this, you can ask your gyno and he or she will show you how.

Pelvic Exam

After the breast exam comes the moment of truth for every woman — the pelvic exam. Your doctor will lay you on your back and gently press several areas of your lower stomach to see if you experience any discomfort prior to the exam. At the initial start of the exam, the dreaded instruments, the speculum and the spatula, will be used to examine your vagina. Mayo Clinic says the speculum — the plastic or metal-hinged instrument — will help spread open your vaginal walls so your gyno can view your vagina and cervix. If your pelvic exam includes a Pap test, your doctor will collect a sample of your cervical cells before removing the speculum. After this is removed, your gyno will examine your other pelvic organs for signs of abnormalities. After this the exam is officially done, you have survived your first gyno exam.

YOU Ask the Questions

Whether you choose to ask them before or after your exam, or when your gyno asks if you have any questions, it’s time to ask everything you’ve wanted to know from your periods to sex. A common misconception women have is that their gyno will judge them and therefore fear asking questions about birth control, STDs, and infidelities, among many others. However, Sylvestre says, “Again, any questions are okay: about your periods, sex, pain during sex, fear of your first intercourse, dildos, orgasm (or lack of), pregnancy, and abortion. Again, don't be shy, s/he heard it all.”

Like Sylvestre, Mornar recommends patients to ask their gynos: “Why are PAP smears necessary? How often do I need one? When do i need a mammogram? How do I prevent pregnancy and transmission of diseases? What is HPV, and do I need the vaccine for it?”

What Does Your First Gyno Visit Mean?

You’re finally done with the exam, and exit the clinic, but you may ask yourself: what does this first visit mean for your health? “The breast screening is looking for abnormalities such as lumps or masses,” Mornar said. She advises women to start getting Pap smears by the age of 21, and mammograms by the age of 40 and older, depending on family history.

Unlike the breast screening, the Pap exam can reveal signs of cervical cancer, ovarian cysts, fibroids in the uterus, and other possible reason for heavy periods. A clean bill of health at a gyno exam can signify that “her Pap is normal, that she has no STD, that her organs are fine,” Sylvestre said.

Women should have their first gynecological exam when they are 18 years old, but it is recommended earlier than 18 if they are sexually active or have a medical problem requiring a pelvic exam.