If you’ve ever felt a bit of apprehension at the sight of that metallic instrument during a gynecological exam, you’re not alone. The traditional speculum is a source of discomfort and anxiety for many women due to its intimidating design and the intimate nature of the exam.
However, recent advancements in speculum design are changing the look and feel of the tool, making necessary gynecologist visits more comfortable. Learn more about how a speculum works, its purpose during an exam and how the modern speculum is adapting to better meet the needs of today’s patients.
What is a Speculum?
A speculum is a medical tool gynecologists use during pelvic examinations. First designed by Marion Sims in the 19th century, traditional speculums are made from stainless steel or plastic. They consist of two blades hinged together with a screw mechanism, a handle for manipulation and a locking mechanism to keep the blades in the desired position.
During an exam, your provider inserts the closed speculum into your vaginal canal. They then gently open it, creating a clear view and access to the vagina and cervix, allowing them to see your vaginal walls and surrounding structures.
This facilitates general examinations and medical procedures, like Pap smears, which help detect sexually transmitted infections or screen for cancer.
Variations and Advancements: Disposable Speculum and Speculum with Light
Recent advancements in speculum design are making gynecological exams more comfortable and empowering for women. Disposable speculums, made from soft, medical-grade plastic, offer a gentler experience and assure hygiene with their single-use design.
These speculums with built-in light also feature a single-use LED VuLight, which has 44% higher lux than a standard exam light. This improves visibility for the doctor and makes the exam less invasive for the patient. This prioritizes your comfort during gynecological examinations, transforming a routine part of women’s health into a more positive and reassuring encounter.
Is the Speculum Safe?
When used by a trained healthcare professional, the speculum is a safe medical instrument. Traditional speculums are thoroughly sterilized between patients to eliminate any risk of infection. This process typically involves using high-temperature steam under pressure (autoclaving) to eliminate all forms of microbial life, including bacteria, viruses and spores.
In recent years, there’s been a shift towards disposable speculums. These are individually packaged and used only once before being safely discarded. This single-use approach reduces any risk of cross-contamination, providing an added layer of safety and hygiene.
Does a Speculum Hurt?
When used correctly during a pelvic exam, the speculum should not hurt. Healthcare professionals are trained to use speculums gently and carefully to minimize discomfort.
However, most individuals feel some discomfort or pressure from the speculum, particularly when it is first inserted or opened. The level of discomfort can vary widely and is based on your individual anatomy, relaxation level and previous experiences.
For instance, you may experience more distress if you have a history of painful exams or if you are particularly anxious about the procedure. The good news is that the procedure typically only lasts a few minutes and any discomfort should be brief.
If you experience pain while using a speculum, inform your healthcare provider immediately. They can make adjustments, such as using a smaller speculum or applying more lubricant. They may also discuss ways to alleviate tension, such as box breathing exercises or listening to music during the procedure.
Addressing Gynecologist Anxiety
Feeling anxious about using a speculum or visiting a gynecologist is common. Understanding what to expect can alleviate some of this gynecologist anxiety. Here are a few tips to consider to help you cope with OB/GYN anxiety:
- Knowledge is power. Understanding how the speculum works and what to expect in the exam room or on the exam table can reduce fear of the unknown.
- Communication. Express any concerns or discomfort with your healthcare provider so they can address them during the appointment.
- Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing or focusing on relaxing your pelvic muscles can ease the insertion and adjustment of the speculum.
- Ask for a smaller speculum. If you’re particularly anxious or know you’re sensitive, ask about using a smaller speculum, like the Nella, for your comfort.
- Have a support person. Have a friend or family member accompany you on your annual visit for an obstetrics and gynecology physical exam to help alleviate anxiety and provide support.
Why the Nella Speculum is Different?
The Nella is a revolutionary design in gynecological tools, offering a more patient-centric approach. Unlike the traditional metal speculum, the Nella is as slim as a tampon and made from a soft, medical-grade polymer, helping patients feel more comfortable during the exam.
Crafted by women for women, this speculum tool is engineered for silent operation and maintains a neutral temperature, eliminating the discomfort of cold, harsh metal during examinations.Explore our directory of providers already using Nella or use our discussion guide to facilitate a conversation with your doctor about incorporating Nella into your exam.