By Yana Markidan, MD
Parents, you may want to sit down for this.
Seventeen is the average age girls start having sex. It’s important that parents bring their daughters in for an office visit before they are sexually active. Experts recommend that young women first see a gynecologist between ages 13 and 15, or earlier if she started menstruating before age 12.
As you can imagine, your daughter will probably be nervous about this milestone. To help her feel more comfortable:
- Explain why the visit is necessary, even if she feels fine
- Explain what she can expect during the appointment
- Address any questions or fears she might have
During her first visit, your daughter’s gynecologist will discuss what makes a menstrual cycle normal or abnormal and what non-hormonal and hormonal solutions are available for missed, painful, or heavy periods. Her doctor also will discuss sexuality, safe sex, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other topics that may be discussed include acne; maintaining a healthy weight; alcohol, drugs and smoking; and emotional health.
To gather your daughter’s medical history, the doctor will ask her questions like:
- When was your last period?
- Are you, or have you ever been, sexually active?
- If you are sexually active, are you using birth control and STI protection?
- Are you having any issues with your period, such as heavy bleeding or cramps?
- Do you have any unusual discharge, itchiness, sores, or discomfort in the vaginal area?
- Do you think you could be pregnant?
Her answers will help the gynecologist decide if any tests are necessary and will help guide the conversation. Explain to your daughter that it’s important to answer honestly, even if she feels embarrassed or uncomfortable. Remind her that the gynecologist or other provider won’t share her information with anyone else.
For some teens, the first visit may just be a talk with the doctor. For others, your daughter’s doctor might do a physical exam. Most girls won’t get an internal pelvic exam or Pap smear until age 21. However, if she is experiencing issues like heavy bleeding, painful periods, or unusual vaginal discharge, she may need a pelvic exam sooner.
Before the visit, give your daughter an idea of what will happen during the physical exam. It may include:
- Weight, heart rate, and blood pressure checks
- A review of recommended immunizations
- An examination of her neck, heart, lungs, and belly
- A breast exam to make sure that she is developing well and to detect any abnormalities, like lumps or cysts
- An examination of her external genitals to make sure there are no sores, swelling, or other problems
A gynecological visit—also known as a well woman exam—is an important step in maintaining and improving a woman’s health. By supporting your daughter through this milestone, you’re helping ensure she has a positive experience.
Dr. Yana Markidan is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.