Image courtesy of Woman's Day

Going to the gynecologist is something every woman has to do. But considering how personal it is, it's no wonder many of us feel nervous or self-conscious when it’s time for the yearly exam. Though shyness is perfectly normal, it can also hold you back from asking important questions or sharing information that your doctor needs to treat you. From menstrual cycle issues to sexual history, discover what your gynecologist is really thinking during your annual check-up.

1. Don't feel shy about your body

Your doctor is just that—a doctor. So believe it or not, when she is looking at you "down there," it really is just like looking at any other part of your body. "There's very little we haven't seen and almost everything is normal, so don't be afraid," says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and author of A Woman's Guide to Sexual Health. If you’re particularly shy around men, Dr. Minkin suggests that a female doctor might be best. "Sometimes women are worried about their appearance, but there's all kinds of variation [in our bodies],” says Pamela Berens, MD, University of Texas-Houston Medical School professor in obstetrics and gynecology. As long as you’re not in pain or discomfort, Dr. Berens says, there’s nothing to worry about.

2. Your doctor is not judging your "number"

When your ob-gyn asks how many sexual partners you’ve had, "it's not something we're asking out of some morbid curiosity or in a judgmental way. We just need to know so we can plan the best healthcare for you," Dr. Berens says. "I do find that women are occasionally resistant to give that information…but we're just trying to plan your screening. We're not even going to remember that about you." As hard as it may be to admit, this also applies if there have been any indiscretions in your relationship. If sex has occurred outside of a monogamous relationship, it can influence which tests you need. "I might suggest an annual pap smear [instead of every three years] as well as testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia," Dr. Minkin says. “Not because I'm judgmental, but because it's important for your health.”

3. Pap smear guidelines have changed

There’s no doubt about it: A Pap smear is an important test, since cervical cells are swabbed and tested for many conditions, including cervical cancer. The question is how often you need one. This is why it's vital to tell your doctor as much as possible about your body, history and lifestyle. "The screening guidelines have changed, so how often you need a Pap smear depends on your last results and your personal history," Dr. Berens says. But, she adds, even if you don't need a Pap test every year, "that doesn't mean you can skip your annual exam."

4. There's no such thing as birth control with no side effects

Though there may be one kind of birth control that works best for your body, there's no such thing as birth control with zero side effects. "All forms of birth control have side effects, as does no birth control—the side effect of that is pregnancy!" says Dr. Berens. With this in mind, give your body plenty of time to adjust to a new treatment before deciding it doesn't work. "If we could tell which was best for you by looking at you, that'd be great, but we need to give it a fair trial," Dr. Berens says. "You need at least three months to get used to it." It’s important to remember, however, that even though fertility decreases as you get older, you can still get pregnant until menopause. However, if you’re over 40 and condoms are your only form of birth control, you should be OK. "Condoms alone are pretty good for a woman in her 40s. Her rates of pregnancy are pretty low, so as long as she uses a condom reliably, I'm OK with that."