Hesperian Health Guides

Before the exam

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > A Book for Midwives > Chapter 20: The Pelvic Exam: how to examine a woman's vagina and womb > Before the exam

Help the woman relax

The pelvic exam is easier and more comfortable when the woman is relaxed and not afraid.

The pelvic exam is easier and more comfortable when the woman is relaxed and not afraid.

Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Remind the woman to take deep breaths and to let her body relax. Go slowly, and stop if you are hurting her. If the woman is healthy, the exam should not hurt. Pain can be a sign of infection or a sign that you need to be more gentle.

2 women sitting together and speaking.
Tell me anytime if you feel upset or scared, and we'll stop the exam.


Some women are afraid to have pelvic exams, such as women who have never had pelvic exams, and women who have had exams that were painful.

Women who have been abused sexually or physically may have an especially difficult time having pelvic exams. These women have been touched when and where they did not want to be touched. With all women, and especially with women who have been abused, ask before you touch.


When you do a pelvic exam, you are examining a woman’s genitals and vagina. Many women are embarrassed or ashamed about these parts of their bodies. They may not want to talk about them, look at them, or let other people look at them.

These body parts are an important part of being a woman. When you do a pelvic exam, encourage the woman to ask questions, and explain that these parts of her body are healthy and normal. You may not be able to take away a woman’s feelings of shame, but you can help reduce them.

Ask the woman about her history

Before you do a pelvic exam, ask the woman when she had her last monthly bleeding, if she is pregnant, and if she has any signs of infection in her vagina or womb. Chapter 7 suggests other questions you can ask a woman about her health history.

Also, explain to the woman what you are going to do during the pelvic exam and answer any of her questions about it.

This page was updated:11 Sep 2019