When should you take your child to the gynecologist?

Puberty can be a confusing time. And for some families, talking about sex, gender identity, and bodily functions can be fraught. That’s why girls should see a gynecologist at some point in their early teens.

A doctor can answer a young person’s questions about puberty and sex. They can offer private, honest, and straightforward health advice. Girls should have their first gynecology visit between ages 13 and 15.

This visit is a ‘get to know you’ one. It allows your daughter to feel comfortable going to their gynecologist in the future. It’s also a chance to ask about periods, what’s ‘normal’ during puberty, safe sex practices, and more.

What happens at your child’s first gynecology appointment

Your child’s first gynecology appointment may last 15 to 45 minutes. First, the nurse or doctor will check your child’s weight, height, and blood pressure. They will ask about any previous diagnoses, as well as current concerns.

The first visit is usually a fully clothed one. It won’t include a genital exam unless your child has symptoms like unusual discharge or heavy bleeding. If your child does need a genital exam, the doctor will explain what will happen and make sure your daughter consents.

Your child’s gynecologist will ask your child:

  • About their periods, including how regular, painful, and heavy they are.
  • If they have questions about their bodies, gender identity, or sex.
  • If they have any struggles related to puberty, like acne.
  • Whether they are sexually active.
  • Whether they’ve had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. HPV is a widespread sexually transmitted infection. The vaccine prevents infection with strains that can cause cancer.

If your child is sexually active, the gynecologist will:

  • Ask how many partners they have had and the type of sex they have (such as vaginal, oral, or anal sex).
  • Ask if they use protection.
  • Discuss consent and what healthy, trusting relationships look like.
  • Talk about sexually transmitted diseases. They can discuss how they spread and what symptoms to watch for.
  • Share ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

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When to Start Seeing a Gynecologist

It’s a good idea for teenage girls to see a gynecologist every year, starting when they are 13, 14, or 15.

But there are reasons to see a gynecologist sooner than later. Your daughter should also book a visit between yearly visits if she has specific changes or concerns.

Some reasons to see a gynecologist in the teenage years include:

  • A change in sexual behavior. They may need to talk to the doctor about safe sex or get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Acne concerns, which hormonal birth control can help.
  • A delay in your child’s first period. If your child doesn’t get her period by age 15, there could be a health reason.
  • Gender identity concerns. A gynecologist can provide gender-affirming care.
  • Periods that seem too irregular, heavy, or painful.
  • Symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection. These include vaginal discharge that is gray, green, or yellow; a rash; blisters or sores; pelvic pain; or spotting between periods.

What About Pap Smears?

A Pap smear is a test whereby a doctor takes a sample of cervical cells to check for signs of cancer. Doctors suggest that Pap smears start at age 21. It’s very rare that cervical cancer or pre-cancerous growths would appear before this age.

While your daughter won’t get a Pap smear before 21, she may get a pelvic exam, genital exam, or both. The doctor will do this if she has certain symptoms or is at risk of sexually transmitted infection.

In this exam, the doctor can take a swab of cervical fluid. They use this to test for infections.

They may also do a pelvic exam to feel the uterus, ovaries, and cervix. The doctor will do this by pressing on the abdomen and feeling inside with gloved fingers. Pelvic exams can check for signs of infection or unusual growths like fibroids or cysts.

Will My Daughter’s First Gynecology Visit be Private?

Your daughter or the doctor may want you there for part of the visit to answer questions about her health history. However, your daughter should be alone with the doctor for at least part of the visit. Some young women are more open to discussing sexual or other bodily concerns without their parents present.

Your doctor won’t share private details about your daughter with you or anyone else without her permission.

However, there are some limits to privacy. If a child discloses physical or sexual abuse or plans to harm themselves, doctors must share this with others who can help.

Doctors may also need to share certain details with their health insurance or public health authority. This can include sexually transmitted disease status.

Your daughter can ask her gynecologist about their privacy rules. She can ask the doctor to explain what they will keep private and what they might share.

What to Look for in a Gynecologist for Your Daughter

Many teenage girls prefer to see a female gynecologist. However, if your daughter has a male gynecologist, she and you should be empowered to ask that female staff member be present for exams if this is not offered. Consent should be obtained for all pelvic examinations. It is okay to ask for clarification for why a pelvic exam is necessary at the visit.

If your child questions their sexual or gender identity or identifies as LGBTQ+, mention this to the doctor. The gynecologist can describe their history of gender-affirming or LGBTQ+ care. Or, they may suggest another doctor who focuses on this kind of care.

The most crucial part is that your daughter feels comfortable with her doctor. She should not feel rushed during the visits. She should feel she can share her body image concerns, periods, or sex life without judgment.

High-quality gynecological care is essential throughout life. It is vital that she feels that her doctor listens to, respects, and supports her.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Confidentiality in adolescent health care. Link

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pelvic exam. Link

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Should my teen see an OB-GYN? Here's what I tell parents. Link

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The initial reproductive health visit. Link

Nemours Kids Health. Your daughter's first gynecology visit. Link

Teen Vogue. Your first gynecology visit. Link

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.