'You expose yourself in so many ways': young women's experiences of pelvic examination

J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2011 Jun;32(2):59-64. doi: 10.3109/0167482X.2011.560692. Epub 2011 Mar 8.


The aim of this study was to identify and describe young women's experiences of pelvic examination (PE). Qualitative interviews were conducted with nine women aged 18-23 years, who had undergone at least one PE. Data were analysed using an interpretative phenomenological approach. Three general themes were identified: (1) relinquishing and regaining control, (2) facilitation of the situation by the examiner and (3) PE is an unpleasant necessity. These general themes had a common structure that represented the essence: an intimate situation. The women experienced PE as an intimate situation, which they associated with their sexuality. They felt exposed both bodily and mentally and were placed in a vulnerable situation. PE was considered as unpleasant but necessary to confirm their health. During the PE, the women felt that they lost control of the situation by exposing their intimate parts. To regain control, the women felt a need for continuous information from the examiner. The vulnerable situation could be made less vulnerable if the examiner built a trusting relationship and made the women feel secure and seen as individuals. A deeper understanding of the situation from the women's perspective could facilitate the examiner's performance of PE, leading to more positive experiences among young women.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Gynecological Examination / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Trust / psychology*
  • Women / psychology*
  • Young Adult