Some milestones are fun for you and your teen to celebrate. Others, well, not so much. Your teenage daughter’s first visit to a gynecologist may well fall into the category of things that neither of you really wants to do. Many parents rely on the annual pediatric exam, but wonder at what point the pediatrician is no longer appropriate for a young adult. How do you know when it’s the right time for your daughter’s first gyno exam? Dr. Joel Bernstien, a physician with Kamm McKenzie OBGYN in Raleigh, North Carolina, provides some insight.
It’s Time to Take Your Daughter to the Gynecologist When:
1. Your daughter turns 16.
According to Dr. Bernstien, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends a first visit around age 16. A visit around this age allows for a “non-invasive way of meeting an OB/GYN doctor.” Absent any gynecological issues, a full physical exam that includes a Pap test, pelvic exam and breast exam, can probably wait.
Dr. Bernstien notes that while some OB/GYNs recommend a Pap test at the onset of sexual intercourse, a pelvic exam and Pap test are not clinically warranted for most young women before the age of 21. “If I am seeing a young woman who I think I can care for without a pelvic exam, then I try to avoid it until age 21 as it can bring on anxiety for the patient.” You and your teen may feel relieved if you both know that her first visit might not require the dreaded stirrups.
2. Your daughter has gynecological issues.
Some girls may experience gynecological problems at an earlier age that are more appropriately treated by a specialist, such as irregular periods, ovarian cysts, painful periods or excessive bleeding. She may find a breast lump or experience difficulty using tampons. In these situations, a gynecologist may be able to provide more successful treatment than your daughter’s regular pediatrician.
3. Your teen may feel more comfortable discussing some topics with a gynecologist.
At some point, your teenage daughter might not feel comfortable going to the pediatrician. According to Dr Bernstien, teens come to see him to discuss concerns they may not want to share with their parents or pediatrician, such as birth control, STD testing or painful intercourse. Taking your teenage daughter to a gynecologist provides “an opportunity where the patient can speak candidly and privately with the practitioner about topics that she does not feel comfortable addressing” with her parents or pediatrician, he explains.
4. You know or suspect that your teen is sexually active.
If your teen is sexually active, a visit to a gynecologist is an opportunity for parents to have “an honest, open discussion” with their daughter. Additionally, a visit to the gynecologist allows for a “neutral, nonjudgmental third party to discuss important aspects of becoming sexually active, such as safe sex practices, avoidance of unwanted pregnancy and STD prevention,” says Dr. Bernstien.
Should it be time to see the gynecologist, it is important to find a provider that treats teens. Many mothers will take their teenage daughter to their own gynecologist. However, Dr. Bernstien notes that many OB/GYN practices have a physician who specializes in teens. A nurse practitioner may also be a more comfortable, nonthreatening option for your teen.