Dr. Kimberly Woods McMorrow shares insights to help you and your teen prepare for that first visit to the gynecologist.
As an OB/GYN at Virginia Physicians for Women, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from my patients about when their daughters should start seeing a gynecologist and what happens at that first visit. Recommendations have changed since many of us were in that phase of life—these days it’s very common for girls to start seeing a gynecologist early in their teenage years.
The first visit can feel intimidating for a teenager; but remember that we’re here to help girls navigate the many changes that come with the transition to young womanhood. I would like to answer some frequently asked questions to help you and your daughter know what to expect and when.
When should girls start going to the gynecologist?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls have their first visit with a gynecologist between ages 13 and 15. I recommend that if girls are experiencing any women’s health issues or problems they come in sooner. If they are uncomfortable seeing a gynecologist and are not sexually active or having any issues, it is ok to wait until the end of high school.
What can they expect at their first visit?
The first visit is a good way for a girl, her mother, and her doctor to get to know each other. The physician will take a comprehensive history, including the patient’s personal medical history and family history, and discuss any issues the patient may be having. Some of the questions are personal as we discuss menstrual history and sexual history. This visit is a great opportunity to counsel patients on contraceptive options so that they understand what resources are available to them and how to access them when needed.
Will they have a physical exam or just talk?
The first visit will mostly consist of talking. A general physical exam (basic heart and lung exam, abdominal exam) is often performed, but this usually does not include a pelvic exam. If there are any issues that need to be evaluated with a physical exam, an external pelvic exam may be performed with the permission of the patient. If a patient is sexually active, STD testing is typically performed (chlamydia and gonorrhea screening). This testing can be performed during a pelvic exam or with a urine sample if the patient declines a pelvic exam.
How do VPFW providers make that first visit less scary?
We try to keep patients calm and informed about what’s going on during the course of the visit. Parents are welcome to accompany their daughters to the visit to ask questions and provide support. I usually try to talk to adolescent patients both with their parents and alone because some feel more comfortable sharing information when their parents are not present. I also want to make sure our patients understand that their gynecologist is available to talk through or assist with any problems—now or in the future—that they may not want to discuss with their parents.
What are the most common issues that an OB/GYN can help young women with?
An OB/GYN can assist young women with the whole spectrum of women’s health, including painful, irregular, or heavy periods, pelvic pain, preventative care such as birth control counseling, STD screening, and vaccination against HPV.
VPFW is here when girls need us
Teenage girls go through so many changes during this time in their lives, and there are many reasons to make a first appointment with a gynecologist. Even if it’s just to become familiar with a new doctor or get that first check-up – we are here to answer questions and provide compassionate care. We also make the experience as informative and comfortable as possible so that our younger patients can learn what to look out for and begin taking an active role in their sexual and reproductive health.