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Your Teen’s First Gynecologist Visit: 5 Things To Know

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
Teen girl talks with doctor

When your child is young, preventive care is easy to navigate – you simply take your child to their pediatrician every year for their annual checkup. But if you have a daughter approaching adolescence, you may wonder when it’s appropriate to take her to a gynecologist.

Reproductive health is important during every stage of a woman’s life – even during the teen years, and even if they aren’t sexually active. It’s important to establish care with a gynecologist early so they can become a trusted resource for your daughter if and when any problems arise, says University Hospitals obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief Stephanie Teal, MD.

Here are five things to know about your teen’s first visit to a gynecologist:

  1. Ideally, a girl should start seeing a gynecologist after her first period.

    This typically occurs around ages 12–14 for most girls. Menstruation usually begins about 1.5–2 years after the start of breast development in girls, so that can be an indicator of when you might expect your daughter to get her first period.

    Additionally, if your daughter hasn’t started her period by age 15, it’s a good idea to schedule a gynecologist appointment to rule out any health problems that may be delaying the onset of menstruation.

    For most girls, Dr. Teal recommends a yearly checkup starting around age 14. But this can vary depending on your child’s pediatrician and their comfort level in talking to your teen about reproductive and sexual health issues.

    “Some pediatricians will feel very comfortable answering your questions and your teen’s questions about these topics, as well as giving guidance about what to expect as they enter adolescence,” says Dr. Teal. “Others would prefer your daughter go to a gynecology and women’s health expert to address these needs.”

  2. A gynecologist can help with a wide range of teen health concerns.

    During the first few years of menstruation, periods can be erratic – so this is a good time to see a gynecologist and learn what is normal and what is not, says Dr. Teal. Some of the common reasons a parent might bring their daughter to a gynecologist include:

    • Irregular, heavy or very painful periods. Though these issues are quite common in teens, they can be very disruptive to school, sports and social activities. These issues can lead to missing school, quitting teams and reducing self-esteem.
    • Excessive hair growth. Hormone shifts during puberty may bring up issues such as hair growth, acne and other skin changes that can be concerning to a teen.
    • Weight concerns. Weight gain and body image issues are common concerns during puberty that a gynecologist can address.
    • Sexual health. A gynecologist can educate parents and teens about navigating communicating about sex, identifying safe and unsafe situations, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and other topics related to sexual activity.

  3. The first visit is mainly talking – and a pelvic exam is rarely needed.

    Many parents and teens might be anxious about the possibility of a painful physical examination at the gynecologist’s office. But Dr. Teal wants to put that idea to rest: “Guidance on pelvic exams for teens has changed, so it’s very unlikely a teen will need a vaginal exam.”

    Dr. Teal says pelvic exams are very rare for younger patients, especially if they are not sexually active or don’t have a specific condition that warrants it. The majority of health concerns a teen may be facing can be addressed with non-invasive methods, such as an ultrasound or blood tests.

    During the visit, your child’s provider will also want to take a detailed health history and ask questions related to your child’s development, menstrual cycle and other pertinent information. It’s also an opportunity for your teen to get to know their provider a little bit so they can get more comfortable with them.

  4. You’ll likely start the visit in the exam room with your teen, but may be asked to step out later.

    Dr. Teal says that for teens she likes to start the visit with the parent in the exam room. This serves to not only make your child more comfortable, but it can help to have a parent there to answer questions regarding their child’s medical history.

    But Dr. Teal always tells parents that there will be at least a couple of minutes at each visit without a parent in the room. This is important for both parent and teen. For the parent, it helps them get used to their child having another trusted adult to talk to about problems. For the teen, it gives them an opportunity to discuss issues they may be worried about, but aren’t comfortable going to mom or dad about yet.

    Dr. Teal says this one-on-one time is a good opportunity to talk about things like bullying, peer pressure and risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking or drug use – and about how to self-advocate when encountering these situations.

    “Speaking with your teen alone doesn’t necessarily mean we’re talking about sex or birth control,” says Dr. Teal. “But it’s a good time to talk about and even role-play self-advocacy, so if they do encounter a sexual situation they have the tools in place to make good choices for themselves.”

  5. Seeing a gynecologist as a teen can set up a lifetime of good health.

    Many moms in their 30s and 40s might remember their own anxiety around their first gynecologist visit. But guidance around teen’s reproductive health has changed a lot in the last 15 years or so, says Dr. Teal. Routine pelvic exams are no longer conducted. Pap tests are not recommended before age 21, even if a teen is sexually active.

    The experience at the gynecologist’s office for today’s teens is very different from that of their parents, and it doesn’t have to be embarrassing, uncomfortable or painful, says Dr. Teal.

    Instead, establishing care at a young age will mean your daughter has a trusted provider they can turn to when they have questions or concerns, and will have someone to help guide them through every phase of life.

Related Links

Need to find an OB/GYN? University Hospitals has a large network of women’s health experts throughout the region. Visit OB/GYN & Women's Health Services to learn more and find a provider near you.