A teenage girl should see her adolescent gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). But unlike past physician visits, the first gynecologic appointment is focused on education and guidance, personal empowerment and self-worth. It's a critical experience for a young woman, who will begin to form a trusting relationship with her physician. She will also begin to form her first impressions of women's health care, which could likely influence future doctor-patient relationships and her willingness to seek care in the future.
Unless there is a compelling medical reason, this initial visit will not include a pelvic exam. A Pap smear is not medically indicated until age 21. Pap testing before this age, regardless of sexual activity, only creates anxiety and does not improve the quality of her health.
A gynecologist's time with a young adult focuses on important 'crossroad' issues of late childhood and young adulthood, including issues of puberty, the arc of menstrual health, and sustaining a healthy body image (menstrual irregularities are a common red flag for anorexia or bulimia).
A gynecologist can also be persuasive source of preventive information on immunizations, bone health, self-breast examinations and rape prevention, along with the risks of substance abuse.
Still, some parents may delay their daughter's first gynecology visit because of their own concerns about discussing sex and contraception. However, developmentally healthy adolescents strive to be independent and distinct from their parents — and often think that pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection 'won't happen' to them. Having a gynecologist validate parental concerns with solid scientific data on the risks of sexual activity and STDs can be a mind-opening experience for an adolescent — and her parents.
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