Dr. Kimberly Woods McMorrow shares insights to help teens 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.
So what age should a girl go to a gynecologist? Are there specific teen-focused gynecologists available to assist your daughter through her first visit? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions answered to help you and your daughter understand when she should start seeing a gynecologist and what to expect during those initial visits.
Does every girl have to go to a gynecologist?
This may seem like a silly question on the surface, but it’s a very important one. Any person with female reproductive organs should in fact see a gynecologist.
The female reproductive system is complicated, and females can have very different experiences through puberty and beyond. It can be difficult to determine what’s “normal.” A doctor can help navigate the changes a female experiences, discussing things like periods, PMS, safe sex and the need for birth control (whether for period symptom management or pregnancy prevention).
When should a female start seeing a gynecologist?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls have their first gynecology appointment 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.
To begin, 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. This consists of a short evaluation of the vulva and the opening of the vagina. In most cases, a more thorough examination of the vagina will occur during the next gynecology appointment.
If a patient is sexually active, STI 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.
When does the first Pap smear occur?
A Pap smear or Pap test is a screening test for cervical cancer in which cells are taken from the cervix and examined to see if there are any abnormal cells that could develop into cancer. The recommended age for women to get their first pap smear is 21. This is the suggested age by physicians, regardless of the patients’ sexual history, so it’s not likely that a Pap smear will be done at the first visit to the gynecologist
How do VPFW providers make that first visit less scary?
At VPFW, we want all of our patients to feel comfortable and confident in our services.
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.
You are welcome to discuss any concerns regarding the menstrual cycle, birth control options, HPV vaccinations and other areas regarding gynecologic care during this initial visit. This allows the physician and patient to get to know each other and feel confident in the path toward positive women’s health.
Should girls receive the HPV vaccine at their first visit to the gynecologist?
Most girls will have already received the HPV vaccine before their first visit to the gynecologist. The recommended age for the HPV vaccine for both girls and boys is 11-12 years old. The HPV vaccine works best before sexual activity and exposure to HPV. Additionally, younger children create more antibodies after receiving the vaccine than those in their late teens. However, if a patient has not received the vaccine prior to seeing a gynecologist, they can receive it during their first visit.
As of July, 2021, the Virginia Department of Health requires a complete series of 2 doses of the HPV vaccine for both male and female students entering the 7th grade. Learn more in Dr. Kristen Lawson’s blog post, FAQ’s About HPV and the HPV Vaccine as New Mandate Takes Effect>.
Are there gynecologists that focus on teens?
All of our gynecologists at VPFW have experience working with teen patients. To find the right provider for you, learn more about their personalities, backgrounds, and areas of interest and expertise on our Providers page. You can even narrow down the list by selecting a location near you and looking for providers with “gynecology” listed under their name and credentials.
VPFW is here when teens need us
Teenagers 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.
To schedule an adolescent gynecology visit with a VPFW provider, you can call us at 804-885-2846 or set an appointment online.