When to go
A woman’s first gynecologist visit should happen at the age of 21 for cervical cancer screening, however, any woman or teen who is younger than 21 and is sexually active should be seeing a provider who is comfortable with gynecologic care for annual chlamydia screening. Annual chlamydia screening is recommended for sexually active women age 24 years and younger. Screening for other sexually transmitted infections may also be needed. Urine screening is very effective, so taking a pelvic exam out of the equation often makes this screening easier for many women regardless of age.
Other reasons to see an OB/GYN before the age of 21 include irregular periods, heavy periods (soaking onto clothes is a good proxy for being heavy), or period pain that is interfering with daily activities despite the use of over the counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
How to prepare your daughter for her first visit
For a young woman who has never had a pelvic exam I recommend a “get to know you” visit with an OB/GYN before her visit for cervical cancer screening. This is a good time to develop a rapport without the worry of an exam looming in the background. A good doctor should be able to show your daughter the tools he or she uses during the exam, talk to her about the importance of cervical cancer screening and screening for S.T.I.s, and ease any concerns she has about the exam.
If a teen or woman has been using tampons or a menstrual cup, then she may have a greater degree of comfort with the exam, but everyone is different. As an expert in pain with sex, I hear from many women who were traumatized as young women by painful exams. A pelvic exam shouldn’t be painful; there may be pressure or it may feel “weird,” especially to a young woman who has never used a tampon or menstrual cup, but it should not hurt. Tell your daughter that if a pelvic exam is painful, she should let the doctor know and ask them to stop.
Something to think about: As a parent, it is important to think ahead health-wise about your daughter’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. Keep in mind that while they may tell you otherwise, some teens are already sexually active or are planning to be sexually active. That is one reason to offer to let your teen speak to her doctor without you present for part of the visit. This way she can speak freely.
Dr. Jen Gunter, Twitter’s resident gynecologist and author of The Vagina Bible, is teaming up with our editors to answer your questions about all things women’s health. From what’s normal for your anatomy, to healthy sex, to clearing up the truth behind strange wellness claims, Dr. Gunter, who also writes a column called, The Cycle, promises to handle your questions with respect, forthrightness and honesty.