When Do I Need to See a Gynecologist for the First Time?

Many teen girls and young women question when they need to start seeing a gynecologist.

The experts at both the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology recommend that annual Pap tests (Pap smear) to screen for cervical cancer begin at age 21. But for some adolescents and young adults, issues can come up long before that age.

What to Expect in First Visit to a Gynecologist

The average age of starting menstruation is between 12 years 13 years old in the United States. Therefore, it may be appropriate for girls to have their first gynecological visit as early as age 13. In girls of that age, most initial exams won’t include a pelvic exam. A young girl should likely know that in advance to put her mind at ease.

The visit will likely include a general physical, which consists of the basics of height, weight, and blood pressure measurements. Parent or guardians can be in the examination room if it will help the girl feel less anxious. Although the healthcare provider might also perform a brief external exam of the genital area, the visit will likely be more conversational than anything else, giving the young patient the opportunity to speak candidly.

Some gynecologists use these visits to counsel patients about risky behavior such as unprotected sex. Many gynecologists will use the initial exam to address the topic of sexually transmitted diseases as well.

Every young patient is different, but if girls don’t show secondary sexual characteristics such as breast and pubic hair development by age 13, they might need an evaluation. If secondary sexual characteristics develop by the age of 15, but the girl is not yet menstruating, that could pose a red flag, prompting a visit to a  gynecologist.

If a girl is menstruating, but not regularly at first, most gynecologists say it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. It may be common in the first two years of menstruation, but if there is a concern, like excessive pain, seeing a gynecologist can help.

Adolescents and young adults may wish to speak to a gynecologist about birth control methods, and in some cases, a physician might recommend birth control medication for issues such as heavy periods or extreme cramping.

Choosing a Gynecologist

Just as you would seek out a physician in any specialty focus, you will likely want to find a qualified and credentialed gynecologist. Some focus on explicitly on pediatric and adolescent gynecology. You may want to do some research into local providers and ensure that the doctor’s credentials, experience, and abilities meet your unique needs.

As with any doctor or healthcare institution, gynecologists sometimes make errors or miss things they should likely address. Checking a doctor’s history of malpractice suits and disciplinary actions can help guide you in making the appropriate choice. If you don’t have any information about a gynecologist, you can simply ask them directly. You have the right to know.

Furthermore, if you’ve experienced negligence or improper treatment at the hands of a gynecologist, you would be well-advised to schedule a consultation with a qualified and credentialed medical malpractice attorney.