Let’s face it: Going to the gynecologist will always suck. There’s nothing comfortable about stirrups and speculums. The exam itself is bad enough, but on top of that, we stress about bringing our kids, shaving, which socks to wear (or not wear), our underwear sitting on the office chair, piercings, hygiene, and a million other things.
If you’re tired of being embarrassed at the gyno’s office, we have good news. We talked to gynecologists from across the United States and grilled them on the most awkward etiquette questions. After reading their answers, you won’t be worrying about winning the “weird patient” award anymore. OK, you’ll probably still worry about it a little. But you’ll be strutting into your next pelvic exam with much more confidence than before, and that’s something.
1. Should I wear my socks or leave them off?
The gynos we asked were unanimous: They don’t care — be comfortable! They also assured us that the stirrups’ footrests are cleaned between patients.
If you’re pro-sock, have fun with it. Pull out your best pair of fuzzy socks to keep your legs warm or deck out your feet in your craziest designs. Hate socks? Embrace your nakedness and go bare. If you go au naturel, don’t worry about your pedicure or lack thereof. The doctor is focused on your cervix, not your nail polish.
2. What if I run into my gyno at a social event, my kid’s school, the grocery store, etc.?
Sure, it can feel a bit awkward or cringey to see your gyno in public, but relax; they see a million vaginas. An out-of-office encounter is no big deal to them, so feel free to treat them like any other person. “Just say hi,” says Dr. Steven Rabin, a gynecologist from Burbank, CA. “You don’t have to make it awkward, we love being recognized — it makes us feel like a rock star.”
That said, it’s totally OK if you’d rather not say hello or acknowledge your doctor-patient relationship. Your medical information is confidential, and your doctor should be discreet.
3. Should I cancel if I have my period?
Real talk: That annoying monthly flow makes everything more complicated — even your gyno appointment. If the reason for your visit is counseling, birth control, blood work, or a sonogram, your period will have no impact.
For other types of appointments, your period could affect the tests or exams that are planned, so it’s a good idea to call the doctor’s office beforehand to find out if you need to reschedule. In all likelihood, they’ll tell you that you do not need to cancel if you’re on your period. However, a heavy flow could obscure results, meaning you’ll have to repeat the visit.
4. Can the gyno tell if I’ve had sex right before the appointment?
Well, add “recent sex” to the list of super personal facts that your doctor might uncover. They could see micro lacerations during the pelvic exam. Or, if they make a microscope slide to evaluate discharge, they might see sperm swimming around.
But hey, they know that sex is normal. It’s a big part of their job, after all. Think of your recent romp as the perfect conversation starter for asking your sex questions.
5. Should I take out my piercings?
No need to remove those cute nipple rings or any other piercings. In fact, sometimes it’s better to leave them in. “I recommend leaving in all piercings for an exam so that your doctor can assess their effects on your body,” says Dr. Faina Gelman-Nisanov, an OB-GYN from Oradell, New Jersey.
If you are having surgery or procedures, though, you may be asked to remove your piercings.
6. Do they judge my tattoos?
Nope! All our doctors said no judgment.
7. What should I do if I need to bring my kid?
If you need to bring your kid, then bring your kid. If your child is old enough, they can sit in the waiting room close to the office staff. If your child is younger, they can go to the exam room with you. The medical team can help provide distractions and shield your child’s view during the exam.
“Many of our patients are busy moms and need to bring their children occasionally, which is understandable,” says Dr. Monte Swarup, an OB-GYN from Chandler, AZ. “While we recommend not to bring your child as we want to have your full attention, modern life does not always allow that to happen.”
8. At the end of my appointment, should I leave the gown on the table or throw it away?
Here’s a situation where you don’t need to clean up after yourself! The docs said it’s fine to leave your lovely paper gown on the table. In fact, it’s preferable because occasionally patients will throw it away in the wrong container.
If you’re given a linen gown, your gynecologist, OB-GYN, or a nurse will typically tell you prior to the exam where to drop the linen garment afterward.
9. Should I say something if my tummy is grumbling or if I toot during the exam, or pretend it didn’t happen?
It might be tempting to blame that toot on the medical assistant or the burrito you ate for dinner last night. Instead, take it easy and don’t bother with explanations or jokes. You can throw out a quick “excuse me” or just keep quiet.
“No need to say anything,” says Gelman-Nisaov. “We also have grumbling tummies and accidental toots.”
10. The exam rooms usually say no phones, but can I use my phone while waiting and then put it aside when it’s time for the exam?
Most docs don’t mind patients using their phones while waiting alone in the exam room. The key is to avoid long conversations, keep the volume low, and put the phone away when the medical staff enters the room.