Why I love going to the gynecologist

About a week after I had my Paragard IUD inserted, my roommate came into my room and asked me why exactly I’d chosen to get the thing. Since she’d watched me writhe in pain for a good 12 hours following the procedure, I was surprised she hadn’t just concluded I’d mistakenly gotten the Kraken implanted into my lady bits. I explained that I was sensitive to hormones and allergic to latex — not to mention the ironclad pregnancy prevention rates that had made IUDs popularity skyrocket in recent years. I asked her if she had asked her gyno about her options.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never been to the gynecologist.”

I went to the gynecologist for the first time before I’d ever even had sex. My periods were elusive and weird, and the ladies in my family have a history of difficult reproductive systems, so my mom and I decided I should go.

I’d never actually told my mom I’d gotten my period until they started to become irregular, and we hadn’t really ever had “the talk” — I sort of relied on health class and the life-saving Girls’ Body Book. So I really didn’t know what to expect or how I was going to talk to this stranger about what was going on down there.

After speaking with the nurse practitioner for just a few minutes, I was immediately in awe of everything this woman knew about my body and how candidly we could talk about menstruation, estrogen, and – gasp – vaginas. My vagina. It wasn’t weird or scary. In fact, it was the opposite. She made me feel like my lady parts were more than normal — that they were an incredible treasure, and that we were going to do everything we could to take care of them properly. She made certain I knew what was happening, and why she was recommending the pill she was; she told me what each of the chemicals did and how I might feel when I took them.

My doctor was also rather knowledgeable about my general health. I didn’t have a family doctor until I was in college, because anything I’d had bothering me, she’d been able to deal with handily. That’s still pretty much the case today.

Eventually, I became sexually active, and started going in for the yearly Pap smear, too. I found myself actually looking forward to the appointments. The experience became a sacred part of my self-care and granted me access to a safe space that I just hadn’t found anywhere else. It was absolutely the blossoming of my baby feminism.

Eventually, I moved out of state and my original gynecologist retired. In my search for a new lady doc, I’ve encountered some gynecologists I didn’t like as well. But even with the ones I didn’t click with, it still felt like an important ritual and a time for learning. Once, I had an urgent situation with a UTI (if you’ve been there, you know there’s no waiting), and I had to see a male gyno. Even in that instance, being able to openly talk about my body felt as freeing and empowering as it always had.

We also give back to other women by engaging with women’s health services. The other day, my doctor and I talked about sex, and she was surprised by some of my answers; she learned something new from me. It’s incredibly moving that every time I visit the Women’s Health Department, I’m asked if I’m safe at home and happy in my relationship. How very far we’ve come since the days of not having a word for “domestic violence.” It’s a field that’s often stigmatized and definitely over-politicized, but it offers so many important outlets and resources beyond the scope of reproductive health.

So, when my roommate revealed she’d never gone to the gynecologist, I was a bit taken aback, but I didn’t judge her – I know it’s a tricky subject for so many women. It meant so much to me that she felt like she could ask me about birth control, hormones, periods, and so on. I told her that if and when she felt comfortable, she should make an appointment — but not just for her health and safety. Because it can be empowering, and can strengthen a foundation of knowledge and solidarity for women around the globe.

Even if it’s scary at first, visiting the gynecologist is an important and enlightening experience. Being in tune with your lady parts gives you a lot of control, and can make everything from sex to shaving to birth control a little less scary. If you’ve never gone or if you’re avoiding going back, forget the speculum and the stirrups. Reframe the visit as something positive for your womanhood.

Hannah Moser is a writer, gamer, and cat lady. She’s inspired and bemused by the goings-on of her Silicon Valley ecosystem, and turns to comic shops, book stores, and Vinyasa flow when in need of stress relief. You can find her on Instagram.