Nobody looks forward to a gynecological exam, but it is possible to make your time in the stirrups more comfortable and informative.  Whether you're visiting your gynecologist for a basic checkup or are concerned about something specific, read on for what you should know before you go.

1. This isn't an exam you can study for. Try to schedule your annual gynecological exam one to two weeks after your period.  Other than taking a shower, there's nothing else you need to do to prepare. Don't douche (never a good idea) or use tampons the day of your exam as this can strip the vagina of discharge or bacteria your doctor needs to examine.

2. It's okay to bring a cheat sheet. Many women are understandably nervous before their gynecological exam and may forget some of the questions or concerns they intended to discuss.  Bring a list of everything you want to talk about or have examined.  If the list is particularly long or complicated, your doctor may break your appointment into several visits to give each issue enough time.

3. Certain things are included.  Your annual gynecological exam, also known as a well-woman exam. should include a complete history and physical (health questionnaire and interview, examination of heart, lungs, vital signs, weight, etc), a breast exam, pelvic exam, Pap Smear, and any other laboratory tests as indicated.

4. Certain things are extra credit. You don't always need an annual Pap Smear. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend yearly Pap smears until age 30.  After that, healthy women who've had at least three consecutive normal Pap smears may only need the test every two or three years.  Checking for sexually transmitted diseases isn't necessarily part of a well-woman exam but isn't unusual either.  If you are concerned about exposure or have symptoms that may suggest you've contracted a disease, tell your doctor.  Most STDs are easy to check for.  Screening for HPV (Human papillomavirus), the most common STD and responsible for some types of cervical cancer, is included as part of a Pap smear.

5. This exam is easier than you think. Most women find gynecological exams are simple, painless, quick, and far less embarrassing than expected. Gynecologists have seen it all.  They're in the business of sexual and reproductive health and spend all day talking to women about all kinds of explicit and intimate subjects. Your concerns will be treated respectfully and will most likely be something your doctor has dealt with many times before.