8 Embarrassing Secrets You Must Tell Your Gynecologist

1
What Are You Not Telling Your Doctor?

Shocked woman covering her face
The problem you consider simply embarrasing may be a symptom of an undiagnosed medical condition. Volanthevist / Getty Images

We all keep secrets. But some secrets—if you keep them from your doctor—can hurt.

A problem you consider to be simply embarrassing may be a symptom of an undiagnosed medical condition, possibly a treatable one.

Are you hiding something from your past? You may think it's irrelevant today, but your doctor may see it as very relevant.

If you’re hoping to get pregnant, it’s even more important to be honest with your doctor.

Here are eight secrets women keep from their doctors, and why you need to share them.

Side note: Are you afraid to share your secret because you don’t want your partner to know? Due to privacy laws, your doctor can’t divulge your private information to your partner. You should feel safe sharing.

2
You Experience Painful Intercourse

Woman on back over the edge of bed with hands on her face
Painful sex can be a symptom of a larger problem. Please tell your doctor. Meng Yiren / Getty Images

Sex shouldn’t be painful. Occasional discomfort can be normal. However, if you regularly experience pain, tell your doctor.

Painful sex can be caused by a number of conditions, many that may affect fertility.

Endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic adhesions, and pelvic inflammatory disease, for example, can cause pain during sex and also cause infertility.

Painful sex itself can also make it difficult to conceive. Some women will experience painful intercourse especially around the time of ovulation, which is just when they need to have sex to get pregnant.

Others have pain due to vaginal dryness.This can make sex uncomfortable and also harm your odds of getting pregnant. (More on this ahead.)

If sex hurts, tell your doctor.

3
You Have Excessive Facial or Body Hair Growth

Jar with how wax and woman in background
If you have excessive facial hair, it may be a symptom of a hormonal imbalence. Image Source / Getty Images

If you deal with unusual hair growth, you probably wax or use some other form of hair removal. Your doctor may never see it when you come for appointments, and you might never think it’s important to mention.

But you should mention it.

Excessive facial or body hair growth, known as hirsutism, is a possible symptom of hormonal imbalance.

Specifically, it signals that there may be a problem with your androgen levels.

Most commonly, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the culprit.

Other possible causes include non-classical adrenal hyperplasia (NCAH), HAIR-AN Syndrome (which stands for hyperandrogenism, insulin resistance, acanthosis nigricans), Cushing's Syndrome, and ovarian or adrenal tumors.

All of these conditions can cause infertility. Many can also affect your overall health.

You can keep waxing—but do tell your doctor about the hair growth.

4
You Experience Painful Bowel Movements

woman with her head down sitting on edge of bathtub
Bowel movements can be uncomfortable but they should not cause intense pain. Cultura RM/Steve Prezant / Getty Images

Bowel movements can be uncomfortable, but they shouldn’t be painful.

I’ll never forget a friend who would practically pass out when defecating. She never told her doctor about the pain. She thought it was just “something weird” about her body that she had to deal with.

There are a number of conditions that can cause pain during a bowel movement. Endometriosis can cause pain when defecating and sometimes also when urinating. The symptoms typically worsen around your period.

Endometriosis can also cause infertility.

Another common cause of painful bowel movements is IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

IBS alone won't impact your fertility. However, IBS and endometriosis can occur together. IBS patients are more likely than the general population to later be diagnosed with endometriosis.

Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose, so it’s especially important you share this symptom with your gynecologist if you’re experiencing it, even if you already have another diagnosis (like IBS) to explain your pain.

5
You Experience Vaginal Dryness—or "Don't Get Wet"—During Sex

Woman getting lotion from a pump
Make sure you use a fertility friendly, vagina friendly lubricant. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. / Getty Images

Usually, when a woman is sexually aroused, glands near the vagina secrete a fluid. These arousal fluids make sex more comfortable and also provide healthier environment for sperm.

If a woman experiences vaginal dryness, she or her partner may assume it’s due to a lack of sexual arousal. If they proceed with having sex anyway, she may experience painful sex.

Because the woman may feel shame or embarrassment for not “getting wet” as expected, she may never tell her doctor. She may not know this can actually be a medical issue.

Vaginal dryness is nothing to be ashamed of... and it may have little to do with a lack of sexual excitement.

Vaginal dryness can be caused by a hormonal imbalance, a vaginal infection or irritation, or as a side effect of a medication.

Vaginal dryness is also a possible side effect of Clomid.

You can use a fertility friendly lubricant to make sex more comfortable.

But don't leave it at that. You also should tell your doctor.

If it’s a medication side effect, there may be other options that won’t cause dryness. If it’s a hormonal imbalance, that’s an important symptom your doctor should know about.

Depending on the cause for the dryness, your doctor may prescribe estrogen suppositories. Vaginal dryness can also be treated with over the counter creams and lubricants. 

6
You Had a Sexually Transmitted Infection in the Past

Medical history intake form
You may feel tempted to lie when filling out a medical history form, but it's important you're honest. Slawomir Fajer / Getty Images

If you had a sexually transmitted infection (an STD or STI) in the past, and it was successfully treated with antibiotics, you may think it’s not important to tell your doctor.

However, you really should, especially if you’re planning or currently trying to get pregnant.

While antibiotics can treat the infection, STDs can often cause scaring of the reproductive organs. The antibiotics won’t remove or heal the adhesions left behind.

Blocked fallopian tubes and hydrosalpinx (which is a specific kind of blocked fallopian tube) can cause infertility. You may experience no other symptoms besides an inability to conceive, so don’t assume that a lack of pain or lack of pelvic discomfort means everything is okay.

Don’t want your partner to know you had an STD in the past? Remember that your doctor cannot share your private medical information with anyone else, including your significant other.

7
You Have Unusual Vaginal Odor

Woman shampooing her hair in shower
Vaginal odors can be normal, but if you're worried about yours, talk to your doctor. Nasowas / Getty Images

Body odors are generally attributed to poor hygiene. We have soaps and deodorants for those kinds of problems.

But if you notice a strange or particularly pungent vaginal odor, don’t cover it up with douching or feminine deodorants. For two reasons.

First of all, abnormal vaginal odor can signal an infection.

Bacterial vaginosis can lead to foul vaginal odors. During pregnancy, bacterial vaginosis can increase your risk of preterm birth. Bacterial vaginosis can also make you more susceptible to contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

Untreated bacterial vaginosis is associated with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and PID can cause infertility.

These are all good reasons to put the feminine hygiene product down and, instead, pick up the phone to make an appointment with your gynecologist.

The other important reason not to use douche products for vaginal odors are that they can cause irritation and infection themselves.

Douching washes away the healthy vaginal mucus that naturally keeps the vagina clean and free of bad bacteria.

If you’re unsure whether your vaginal odors are normal or the kind that signal an infection, ask your doctor.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask. You’re not the first to wonder.

8
You're Not Feeling Interested in Sex

Couple in bed facing away from each other
Low libido can be related to a hormonal imbalence. nicolas hansen / Getty Images

“I don’t feel like having sex,” sounds like something you might say to a psychologist, not your gynecologist.

But a lack of sexual desire can be a sign of a medical issue.

Sexual desire is rooted in the biochemistry of our bodies. When you’re approaching ovulation—your most fertile time—hormones connected to sexual desire increase.

This is nature’s way of making sure humans have sex at the best time for making babies.

If you’re not experiencing this boost in sexual desire, it could signal a hormonal imbalance. You should tell your gynecologist.

9
You Are Practicing Unsafe Sex

Pile of condoms next to one ripped open condom package
Just one act of unprotected sex can lead to a sexually transmitted infection, which is a threat to your fertility. Rafe Swan / Getty Images

Telling your doctor that you’re having unprotected sex may feel like a confession. You know you shouldn’t be doing it.

Here’s the good news: your doctor isn’t there to judge you. She is there to help you.

She needs to know if you’re having unprotected sex, especially if your doctor is under the impression that you’re in a monogamous relationship.

Sexually transmitted infections can come from just one unprotected encounter, and people of all social and economic classes get them.

They are also a common cause of preventable infertility. The longer they are left untreated, the more damage they can cause to your reproductive system.

Most concerning, many STDs are silent in women. There are no or very few noticeable symptoms.

If you’ve had unprotected sex, or are worried your partner is having unprotected sex, ask your doctor to be tested for STDs.

You don’t have to come out with all the details. You can just request testing, and leave it at that.

Don’t want your partner to know? Remember that your doctor cannot legally disclose your personal medical information to him or her. Don’t let fear stop you from getting medical help.

Sources:

Bacterial vaginosis: Complications. MayoClinic.org. Accessed March 6th, 2015.  http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/basics/complications/con-20035345

Hirsutism and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). A Guide for Patients. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Accessed February 27, 2015.  http://www.asrm.org/BOOKLET_Hirsutism_and_Polycystic_Ovary_Syndrome_PCOS/

Painful intercourse (dyspareunia). MayoClinic. Accessed February 27, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/painful-intercourse/basics/causes/con-20033293

Vaginal dryness. MedlinePlus. Accessed February 27, 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000892.htm

Vaginal Odor: Symptoms. MayoClinic.org. Accessed March 6th, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/vaginal-odor/basics/causes/sym-20050664

When Sex Is Painful. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. Accessed February 27, 2015. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/When-Sex-Is-Painful

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