Dear Carolyn:

I am a 26-year-old virgin, and I can't bring myself to go through a complete gyno exam. I have tried a few times, but I make them stop before they insert the speculum. The last time, I actually screamed STOP so loudly that a nurse in the hallway opened the door to see if everything was okay. They tell me it's okay, but I leave crying each time.

I do other brave--albeit insane--things: I have gone sky diving twice, and I went to rural Honduras for two weeks without telling anyone how to reach me. So, how should I go about being brave about this?

--C.C.

The question is, how should I go about being brave about answering you?

Here's the problem: I have my theories. You, I'm sure, have your theories. All the Readers in Readerville have their theories. But I ran your question by Melissa Berler--the kind clinical social worker who helps me with this column and who has her own theories, for sure--and she says this isn't the place for these theories. Specifically, if they're wrong, they could steer you in the wrong direction, and if they're right, do you really want that with your cornflakes?

"Comparing the bravery it takes to sky-dive to a Pap smear is like comparing watermelons and motorboats," says Berler, but by doing that, you're revealing that the exam is "unconsciously life-threatening" to you.

Why? Could be minor, could be anything but. According to Berler, other people have developed fears like yours from a prior bad experience with a doctor or from the negative message society gives women about letting anyone see, much less examine, their bodies; from a need to feel in control; from exposure to a highly sexualized environment as a kid; or from inappropriate touching. No one can take the small bit of information you've given and come up with a definitive answer.

So eat your breakfast. Then look for a women's center affiliated with a nearby hospital or university, and ask for the name of a practitioner--therapist, OB-GYN or, Berler suggests, a nurse midwife--who has experience with issues similar to yours. Then see if you feel safe talking to this person, and work your way from there. You approach a fear like this gently; you don't just throw it on a table and deal.

Carolyn:

I just got engaged. My fiance and I have already selected a date, church, reception site and wedding party. Now what do we do? Is there an order to the rest of the planning? I mean, isn't there some rule that the dress details help determine the theme? Or is it the cake? What do I do next?

--M.

You pick a theme, tie a rock to its ankle and drown it.

Here's what a good wedding needs: one happy couple, two happy families and a bunch of fed and watered guests. Oh, and really good music. The rest is a waste of angst.

Hi Carolyn:

About three months ago, an old friend came to visit us at school. (She's an alum, and we're all seniors in college.) While here, she slept with the guy one of us has been in love with for a year. Though guy has expressed no interest in lovelorn girl, he and visiting girl had nothing going on before, either. Despite obvious clues (long periods of disappearance together, forgotten clothing), lovelorn girl has remained clueless. The rest of us asked visiting girl to break the news to our friend before she found out from someone else. She refused and, moreover, got angry. We all didn't talk for a while.

Lovelorn friend continued to pine loudly, to our discomfort.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. Friend visits for the weekend and apologizes. We pretty much make up and think the whole ugly scene is over. Only--you guessed it--she and guy sleep together again. She has no plan to tell lovelorn girl until she and guy figure out "where they are."

So, it's none of my business, right? I just feel like a crappy friend for keeping quiet.

--Southern Virginia

Hey, if the poo fits.

You were right to ask Visiting Girl to confess, and she should have done it. But you needed a Visiting-Girl-Is-a-Wuss Contingency Plan. The way you've left it, every time Lovelorn Girl mentions this guy, flirts with this guy, pines for this guy, she makes a fool of herself--and gains nothing for her trouble.

You're her friend; how can this not be your business?

Stop the carnage now. As it is, the minute she learns the truth, she's going to look back at every mention/flirt/pine for the last three months and conclude that her life is a piteous heap of humiliation. Are you really ready to watch her keep adding adding adding to it?

By the way, when you tell her, don't do that "oh-you-poor-thing" thing with your eyebrows. The poor thing's suffered enough.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or tellme@washpost.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at 8 p.m. tomorrow or at noon Wednesday or Friday at washingtonpost.com/liveonline