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Jennifer Gorman

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The pelvic examination is a necessary component of women’s reproductive health care. Despite the medical significance of this gynecological screening tool, a substantial amount of research suggests that women find pelvic examinations to be a distressing, embarrassing, and overall negative experience. Of particular interest is a woman’s affective experience of and attitude toward her first pelvic examination, as initial examinations likely set the precedent for scheduling and obtaining subsequent ones. One hundred and fifty-four undergraduate women completed measures assessing their knowledge of, attitudes toward, and experiences with pelvic examinations. Analyses revealed women knew very little about the purpose and procedure of the pelvic examination, regardless of their previous experiences with gynecological health care. Women who had had a pelvic examination held more positive attitudes toward pelvic examinations than did women who had not yet had their first examination. Women reported diverse experiences with their first pelvic examinations. Adjectives used to describe the experiences included “scary,” “empowering,” “clinical,” and “educational.” Nearly one-half of the participants indicated that their first pelvic examination went better than they had initially expected. The Internet is a primary source of health information; therefore, webpages about pelvic examinations were also examined. Participants viewed one of four webpages on pelvic examinations (Planned Parenthood, Wikipedia, WebMD, or MayoClinic) and rated them according to quality. Among the webpages, Planned Parenthood was rated as of the highest quality and Wikipedia of the lowest. Implications for women’s reproductive health care and the dissemination of gynecological health information via the Internet are discussed.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.