Apr 29th, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing
by Bethany

There I was, twenty-four years old and I’d never had a vaginal exam. I don’t like being touched in the first place, let alone being poked and prodded in my sacred areas. I had avoided the pap smear for years.

Going to the doctor should be simple, right? I mean, all I had to do was book an appointment and go! Women do this all the time. But it wasn’t so easy.

My intellect and emotions were at war. One was telling me to face this – that I was worrying over nothing. The other had me struck with this overwhelming fear that I would never have kids. I imagined the doctor sitting me down after the procedure and telling me the bad news. “Bethany, I’m sorry to say this, but your female organs have been damaged beyond repair. There is nothing we can do.” Deep down I believed that the sexual abuse had caused irreversible damage. My uterus was thrust somewhere above the heart, my ovaries had been twisted together into an unrecognizable ball of matter, and the walls of my vagina were scarred beyond recognition.

I dealt with a lot of the pain from the abuse and thought I was out of the woods, but it made me realize that my abuser had given me a fear that was still affecting my life in a very big way. I can heal from the emotional scars, but the physical effects can not be undone.

It sent me through a variety of emotions. There was this possibility that my father’s selfishness could have stolen something so valuable to me – my ability to have children. I applaud people who have the desire to adopt children, but my desire is to be pregnant and give birth to my children. I have pictured for years exactly what it would be like to have children of my own and was distraught at the idea that the invasive abuse could have prevented my dream from coming true.

Sometimes the thing you’re most afraid of is the thing you most need to do.

I knew it was something I had to face, so I hesitantly booked the appointment. It was too late to turn back. I soon found myself spread eagle across the exam table – a far too vulnerable position. After the exam I sat there for what seemed like an eternity waiting for the news. My teeth were clenched as the doctor came back in to speak with me. Everything was fine. “Really?” I thought. “There had to be something wrong.” After what I’ve been through I somehow came out unscathed physically. It felt like a miracle.

Although I was relieved to have a clean bill of health, I was disturbed by how affected I was emotionally by the fear. It forced me to examine the other affects the abuse had on my life and realize, I had more healing to do.

Sometimes the thing you’re most afraid of is the thing you most need to do. It was a daunting task, but without overcoming that doctors visit I could have never overcome many of the other issues I have faced. What is it that you’re afraid of facing?


Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.

[read Bethany’s story here]

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  1. it does suck.. I had a bad experiance a few months back ..I felt violated

  2. aww ss

  3. I’m afraid I’m not normal. I’ll be 24 this year and I’ve never gone either. I refuse to even though I want to have kids. I am unable to have sex or be touched so how am I going to have kids? I just can’t overcome the fear. I am scared to death. I’ll never be normal. Ever. It only happened once but I am ruined for the rest of my life. I don’t even know how to explain the fear. It’s nice to hear that others share that fear. But I’m not strong enough to go through it yet.

  4. Only time I have ever been I laid on the table, and laughed hysterically to a point of I”I might throw up Im laughing so hard” when she did a breast exam and the second she said “Now Im going to need you to put your legs up” my laughter stopped completely and I laid completely still and stared at a spot on the ceiling.
    I dont remember what happened… See More after that for weeks.

    This is before my mother knew of my abuse, and I think it scared her.
    I was 14 when this happened. 20 now, I have no idea how I will go back.

  5. Katie, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I know its not an easy task to face that doctors visit. Not only is it scary what you might hear but its also, like Heather said, violating. When I finally went it was because I felt so paralyzed by the fear there was no other option. It was holding me back from what I wanted to do. I want to encourage you press forward as you feel ready.

  6. i can sort of understand. i’m 16, and have to do this because i’ on birth control. but i have to be on it…or i miss A LOT of school. in 3 months i have the exam, and i’m absolutely terrified. i’m actually taking someone with me. my boyfriends sister i think. idk. just don’t feel as though i can do this alone.

  7. i had my first vaginal exam when i was 23 all because of the severe pain that i was in all the time and i didnt know why and i have had only a few since then all of the GYN’s were men which obviously didnt help the fear and anxiety i am now trying to find a female GYN, i am still having severe vaginal pain all of the time and i dont know what to do,

  8. Many doctors are now becoming educated in this area. If you are comfortable enough to tell the doctor ahead of time that you were sexually abused, many doctors try to be more gentle and accomodate your sensitivity better. Many survivors suggest going to a female OB/GYN. This may make it easier for you as well. Hope this helps.

  9. omg thanks angel so much! i will have too once i find another one, ur message means alot

  10. I so relate this fear. I never had a female exam until at the age of 31 I found out I was over 4 months pregnant. At my first OB/GYN appt. I was terrified. I felt so vulnerable as the Dr. went about her exam. I kept telling myself I could do it because it was for my baby. I never thought I would be able to have children, it had been a lifelong… See More fear, so to be pregnant was a dream come true. My abuse wasn’t really foremost in my mind, I just knew I was very uncomfortable and having a hard time not shaking. I stared at a mobile hanging from the ceiling and tried to go somewhere else in my mind. After the exam, when I was sitting back up on the edge of the table, the Dr. said she needed to talk to me about something. I was so scared that something was wrong with my baby. She quickly put that fear to rest but imagine my surprise and shock when she told me that I had some scarring that she needed to ask me about. I told her that I had been abused as a child and she said that I had scarring inside from it and that was probably the reason that I’d had a hard time conceiving. I was so shocked, ashamed and angry that it was having these affects so many years later. Every exam was a trial…they never got easier. What should have been such a happy, exciting time ended up marred by the pain of my abuse. I am so blessed by my little one but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have another one.

  11. that is how my mom had found out that i was NOT lying to her is that they had found scarring interanally from the abuse, and her and i have been fighting on and off ever since

  12. find a good, compassionate, caring, female doctor and let her know that you’re a survivor. I have one and she’s WONDERFUL! not just with pelvic exams but with my conversion disorder.. my mental health, she listens and is great in every way!

  13. i can not have a female exam i just can not do it. and noone understands that i would rather die then have it done

  14. thanks to all u guys for ur love and support and advice it means alot

  15. Tyrrell, I understand completely.

  16. i went for a doctor apt not long ago and she was tellin me i needed to have a exam done and i told her no way in this world would it happen and she was not going to make me..she really did try to push it on me and made me more uneasy. i have had 2 done in my life each time when i was prego i didnt even go back for a follow up after my kids born and… See More its been over 23 yrs now and i just cant do it. aint no way just the thought of it makes me want to hide in a cornor and cry. so maybe i will get cancer and not know it till its to late. i do not want to die from cancer but i can not over come the fear its more fear to me then having cancer

  17. i am really sick right now with lyme and they refuse to treat me they want to blame it on mental issues and tell me i need a good shrink. i think we have all been to our share of shrinks

  18. Thank you Bethany for sharing something so personal.

  19. Miss Ruck, you shouldn’t had never experience what you did, thank you for sharing your story with us. You story, let me think twice and understand other women around me.

  20. I am afraid of facing my mother and asking her why she left her children with a known pedophile. I also have fear around health issues sometimes as I had spinal meningitis two times in my life and almost died both times….truly a miracle I am here

  21. and, oh yes, Thank you very much for sharing your story Bethany….I know that feeling…thinking there is something very wrong with you when everything is okay. Very scary

  22. Tyrrell I am so sorry it is so traumatic for you….I have a friend who also has this issue…

  23. I absolutely agree about the female doctor…it’s a must…and telling them if you can I am sure would help…never thought of that….thanks

  24. I agree with telling your medical caregiver about your abuse. In my case my Dr. has always been very accommodating and understanding about things I talk about. It took courage to tell my Dr. but the outcome was an outpouring of validation and an open invitation for anytime I am struggling and need help it is available to me. For me it was empowering … See More and validating. My Dr. felt it was essential information to know and be able to take care of my needs. I think if your Dr. is not understanding find a new one immediately. My abuser has taken enough away! It isn’t right that the right to excellent
    health care be taken away too !

  25. I was just thinking about how significant that doctor’s visit was. That was the facing your fear that led to you reporting your dad, which led to us starting OSA. You were afraid of not being able to have children, but by facing your fear, we gave birth to this site. I’m so very proud of you and thankful that you are my daughter!

  26. survivors, please don’t forget how significant the mind/body connection is. some of us have ignored ourselves for so long, we need to heal all our parts which may include treatment from caring, understanding, educated doctors/chiropractors and massage workers.. peace

  27. I like you was terrified of my first OB/GYN visit. I hated it. At 23 I ended up giving birth to my son. I’m 24 now. I was on medicaid so I really didn’t have a choice with my drs. I had the choice between 2. One of them made me very nervous as his office was in the basement of his house. I was scared about that and didn’t want to go. Afraid I was … See Moregoing to set my self up for more problems. I went with a male gyn. this in its self was very difficult for me. I had to really tell myself he is a professional and it will be ok. I was nervous and didn’t want to do this. It turned out to be ok. I did get nervous anyway. I spent overnight in the hospital for some tests when it looked like my water had broken and the dr said you need to relax. A great deal of anger flooded me having been told this, but I tried. Than come my delivery I was really getting upset having the dr looking at me there. But it was a fear I needed to face. I ended up giving birth C-section and figured that it was all done and no one would have to look at my privates again. Well, unfortunatly just about the whole hospital staff had to as I ran into some complications and started hemmorrhaging from my uterus and it was coming out my vagina. The dr had to pull blood clots out of me. talk about embarrassing. Than the entire hospital staff was in my room as my blood pressure dropped and I was on the verge of death. I was angry and afraid all of them looking at me but in the end I was greatful for them saving me. I had to face my fear and that was the only way around it was having eveyone see me.

  28. my aunt want s me to get a vaginal exam ,,,but im not willing to,,,,my dr wants me to see if im virgin or not like wht the hell

  29. I was terrified for my first exam and every one of them since. I was 13 and it was required by social services after my stepdad was jailed. I am just so uncomfortable with someone being down there. That was my first one and last one until I was 19. I almost didn’t go when I was 19 but am glad that I did. Had I continued to ignore health risks, I would have been a lot worse and sick. I found out I had an STD. It was from a friend who raped me in college. I would have never thought I would have anything like that happen or be a result. Ever since, regardless of how scared or terrified I am, I go every year. You just never know the health risks that could be there, not even necessarily from the abuse.

  30. I had a pap test last year and was ok, but afterwards I was told they don’t check for STI’s unless you request it…so now I am afraid I will have to go again, and that I may not be clean. I have heard my abuser had genital herpes, and I am terrified and sickened at the thought of having it. Not just because it’s a disease but because I don’t want any part of him on or inside me..

  31. yeah i am 17 and my first appointment was when i was 15 i was so scared i tensed up and the pain
    was soo bad i screamed the lady stoped and i lefted shaking as i left spacing in and out going back to the
    abuse over and over

  32. Keanna,

    I’m so sorry you had such a horrible experience. I’m due to go back soon and not looking forward to it… As before. It’s a pretty invasive process.



  33. I never got over feeling uncomfortable w/ the Pap exam. I had one a few weeks ago, b/c I had an infection and I felt just as uncomfortable as I ever have. Even though I’ve always liked my doctor, and he always tells me everything he does before he does it, I still feel embarrassed that he’s looking at me down there.
    Telling myself he’s a doctor, and it doesn’t mean the same thing-I’m a health care worker, so I know that’s true-does nothing to make me feel better.
    I have no idea how I’m ever going to feel okay w/ getting a Pap smear. But at least I’m better than when it first happened. A year later I needed a colonoscopy, and I cried the whole way through it. When the doctor asked why I was upset, for some reason I told him the true reason.
    That’s not the same doctor I have now. He didn’t care how I felt, so I never saw him again.

  34. […] I was abused as a child the experience is all the more frightening for me.  I found this article (OB/GYN OMG!)   to be very helpful and […]

  35. I think it’s cool that you guys call your private your ‘down there’ too. I’ve never heard anyone else call it that besides my mom. But, even that word is uncomfortable for me to say.
    I think I was examined as a young child, I was 3 when my dad was arrested, and even though i don’t remember it, i hate having my legs spread. I feel dirty and ashamed and bad and stuff. i don’t even feel comfortable seeing other girls with their legs spread.

  36. Idk how exactly to respond to that. It basically explained how I’ve been feeling for a while. I feel justlike you said in that first paragraph. Same intention to not wanting to get it done. If I still fully had the choice to not get it done, and know nothing is wrong with me that can be fixed, I still wouldn’t be doing this. It’s only becaus I have to that I am.

  37. Danyelle, I understand. If I didn’t have to I probably never would have pushed myself so much to get it done with. It’s a tough thing to go through for anyone – especially a victim of abuse.

  38. I was never abused, that I could remember. I always kept my privates out of topic and I’m a virgin at 19. I get sooo anxious over my doc. Needing to examine me I cry for no reason. Why is it? I’m not sure. I’m terrified to have sex. I don’t remember being abused.

  39. Anorfii,

    If you think that might have been abused, but don’t remember it (which is very common) check this list of indicators out:


  40. I keep putting my smear off; even though I have had cells removed in the past two years. The removal was horrible; and it came at a time when I was just starting to realise that I had been abused my 32yr old stepbrother. (I was 15 at the time) I have very tender skin in that area, it tends to split if Im anxious and sex can sometimes be a bloodbath (even though sex is on the shelf for a spell) so I cannot bear the thought of being lay down on a table with my legs open. Im scared I might blurt it out to the nurse and what on earth is she supposed to say? I don’t want to embarrass her!

  41. Kelly,

    I can definitley identify with your discomfort. If you feel able to, it can be very helpful to communicate with your nurse or doctor the reasons why you are so nervous about the exam. I told my doctor that I was afraid of something being wrong me because of sexual abuse. Normally, they just do their thing and get out of there, but because I spoke up, I got a more sensative and in depth explaination of things and clairification on what is really going on down there. It helped a lot. Doctors and nurses deal with the issue of sexual abuse all the time – especially an ob/gyn. So don’t worry about embarrassing them. Do what is going to make you most comfortable for your exam. If that means talking about the abuse, do that. If that means having a trusted friend with you, do that. Do whatever you need to do to get you through it.

  42. I remember being sexually abused by my teacher when I was in the 8th grade. I did not tell my parents until I was in my early twenties. She would fondle me and write me sexual notes. She was a friend of the family. She would hold my hand, and kiss me all over. At the time, I thought I was the coolest guy. However, after watching a show on sexual abuse, I began to cry. It was at this time, I told my parents. I was a victim and will always be a victim. I sought counseling and overcame it all. It was very difficult to trust anyone, especially women. I was in some very dysfunctional relationships with women. Finally, I became strong emotionally and physically. Counseling helped so much. I am very protective of people I love. I am happily married and am in a healthy relationship with my wife. Through it all, I have had to forgive my offender in order to move on. I know she was a sick, perverted person. However, she will meet her creator someday and will have to answer to him. I firmly believe that.

  43. Scott, I’m so sorry that happened to you, but I’m glad you got the help you needed. It’s amazing the effect sexual abuse has on our adult lives even when we didn’t know there was anything wrong as a child.

  44. Scott and Bethany; I know that feeling of believing it was all alright then realising that it was the opposite. For me the realisation came when I spoke about my stepbrother as if he had been my boyfriend, because thats what I had truly believed at the time. I didn’t seem to understand that because he was my stepbrother and because I was 15 and he 32 that it was wrong. I, like you thought I was lucky, as I had a big strong man who looked after me when all my friends were dating boys from school. I still struggle with this sometimes; as its hard for me to believe that the whole thing was just so wrong. The fact that I spent the past 12 years feeling the effects of abuse was just staring me in the face and I couldn’t hide it anymore. Now I shout about it!
    Luckily I am engaged to an amazing man now; who has taught me a lot about placing the blame where it belongs; between my abuser and my parents, who knew what he was doing at the time. I also, like you believe that they will each in turn have to answer for their actions one day; and it helps so much.

  45. okay…so i like posted this in another thing BUT! i have to go to the gyno for like fricken ballet…I know weird huh?! but it needs to be done if i am going to audition for a spot in the company. Im am so nervous! how do i like survive them touching me down their after what happened to me?

  46. I am 28 I have never had an exam. I tired. Got to the doctor and everything and I made him stop. I couldn’t do it. My friend wants to me to go but I can’t. I have the same fear that you had. I want kids more than anything, so I don’t want that to be taken away from me.

  47. what a peculiar thing… I too used to think I couldn’t have children, don’t know exactly the reason.
    I’ve always had very painful menstruation and pelvic pain, but little blood (I thought the normal was the opposite, little pain and lots of blood). I always felt there was something wrong with my body too, maybe that’s why I thought I wasn’t able to become pregnant.
    But I am. There’s nothing wrong with me, and I had my very first exam at 21 years old, feeling very nervous…
    I want to have children more than anything, and consider adoption as well…
    But I still hate going to doctors… any kind of exam is like an invasion to my body, I really hate it, I only go when I really really need to.

  48. This is SUCH a sensitive issue, and you’d think that most OB/GYN’s would be more aware of it than they are, given the frequency with which women are sexually abused. Sigh.

    There is a great book about sexual abuse that is directed toward maternity care, but much of it really is applicable to GYN care. It is called “When Survivors Give Birth” by Penny Simkin. It is not perfect…there is a part where it talks about the medical care provider deciding that a cervical check may be emotionally “beneficial” to the abused woman…without seeming to consider that the abused woman herself should be the one deciding if the check will be beneficial to her or not. But overall, I think it is very good.

    A sensitive care provider should be willing to allow things such as bringing a supportive friend with you to your visit, and even allowing you to insert the speculum yourself–and insert it in privacy if that makes you more comfortable.

  49. I just wanted to say, I know a lot of women advocate to see female OB/GYNs because they say they are ‘safer’ than male doctors….and I agree to a point. But, I went to a female OB/GYN to have blood work done to see if I had fertility problems. I did not want a pap/internal exam etc…because I am a sexual abuse survivor, (I was abused by several medical ‘professionals’ growing up, as well as a family member and neighbour), and will never submit to having an internal/pap. Anyway, I went to see a female doc and she made it clear that I would have NO choice and I would be forced to have an internal/pap when I became pregnant etc….(which studies show is not necessary during pregnancy anyway, i.e., paps can affect the mucous plug of a pregnant woman…internal exams can introduce bacteria/infection even when wearing ‘sterile’ gloves etc…) Not only did she reiterate that I would HAVE to have a pap/internal and vaginal ultrasound done, but several of her nurses did as well. Because of this, I will never see another OB/GYN again. They were not understanding and treated me like I am not in control of my body.

  50. I was also abused as a child and assaulted as a young adult. I was actually okay with going to my female gyn as my mom used her and i trusted mom’s judgement. I was the girl, after being assaulted, was okay having sex as long as no hands went below the waist, either way. Sounds strange but that is a major trigger with me. I only ever had two partners before my husband, and with him I actually got over that fear, I thought. My problem started when I passed out after vomiting blood. He rushed me to the er where they were pretty sure I was pregnant and called for the on call gyn. It was a man. I started freaking out and crying and the nurses held my legs apart when the gyn said you shouldn’t have a problem since you’ve had sex already and proceeded to do the exam. It’s been four years since that day and I am now terrified of all male doctors, I even had to switch dentists and move our son to a female pediatrician so I wouldn’t have to go near one. It actually caused me to trigger again with my husband for the next few months after that er visit.

    I’ll never, ever, be able nor willing to have a male gyn, or other type of doctor for that matter, near me again unless it’s life threatening and then they’ll have to sedate me.

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