Chances are your teen has been seeing the same doctor since she was born. Over the course of your teen’s life, her pediatrician has become a trusted advisor and sometimes confidant when it comes to growing up and navigating life. So seeing a gynecologist can be a very big – and nerve-racking – step for any teenage girl, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that girls have their first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. If not during their mid-teens, most girls visit the gynecologist when they turn 18 or before they leave home or head off to college.
Either way, fashion magazine horror stories of stirrups and pap smears might frighten your teen away from a very necessary evaluation of her female health. That’s why it’s important to ease your daughter’s mind about her first gynecological visit by having a conversation with her beforehand, explaining what she can expect – and, to her relief, not expect – during her first gynecological examination.
The Big Question: What “Not” to Expect
What your daughter can expect is an exam that doesn’t include a pelvic examination. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that women begin receiving pap smears to screen for cervical cancer at age 21. Visiting the gynecologist five or more years prior to the ACOG’s recommendation, teenage girls will encounter conversations that address issues they currently may experience.
Girls in the United States begin menstruating between 12 and 13 years of age. For most girls, their only education on menstruation is a short movie in fifth-grade health class, what they read in teen magazines or see on the internet, or a dissertation from a friend at a slumber party. Some girls might menstruate earlier than 12 and have no idea what is happening. Best to get advice from the experts: your gynecological will be able to answer all your teen’s questions on the changes her body will undergo during adolescence. She will discuss your teen’s development and explain what can be expected in the months and years to come.
Each girl develops differently. Some develop more quickly, growing pubic hair and developing breasts earlier than their friends. This affects body image for girls who fear they are developing too slowly – or quickly – than their peers. Explain to your daughter that the gynecologist will speak with her about her body’s development and that where ever she is on the spectrum, it’s ok. If your daughter hasn’t menstruated yet and she has turned 16, she may be checked out for amenorrhea. She may also be asked about her eating habits and self-body image.
Your gynecologist may bring up sexual activity during your teen’s first visit. While some girls are sexually active at a very young age, others will not be nor will they have interest. The doctor will explain the consequences that surround sexual activity and may discuss how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and suggest birth control for teenagers who are sexually active. Warning parents: your teen may not want to discuss this in front of you, so consider having a conversation with the gynecologist before the appointment in case the conversation becomes awkward with you in the room.
Your teen may not know what a gynecologist is, so now is a good time to explain and to compare and contrast her with her pediatrician. For example, both doctors will take height, weight, check for concerns and issues, and discuss general health. Both doctors can make referrals, prescribe medications, and administer vaccinations (which, in the case of the gynecologist, might be the HPV vaccine). What your teen needs to know is that she is developing a relationship with a medical professional who is committed to her lifelong female-specific and reproductive health, someone whom she will not outgrow like her pediatrician.
A visit to the gynecologist needn’t be a scary experience. That first visit, which is primarily conversational, allows the patient to get to know her doctor and learn more about the woman she is becoming. Further, the patient learns to trust the doctor with personal health information, while also learning to feel comfortable voicing those issues aloud.
Women in Syracuse can rely on the physicians and nurse practitioners at University OB/GYN Associates for answers and solutions to health problems that come up as you plan for a family, adjust to menopause, and everything else in between. Request an appointment now or call (315) 464-5162.