Rite of passage

This recent article from the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger about adolescent gynecology made me think about how this issue is largely left out of the discussion on teen sexuality.
The first visit is described as a “gynecological encounter,” which doesn’t include a full pelvic exam, but allows teenage girls to start a dialogue with their OB/GYN. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that healthy girls first visit a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15 and preferably before sexual activity. As a good friend of mine pointed out, the first visit is kind of like the “control” to which every exam after sex can be compared.
This also ties into the discussion on abstinence-only education. If teenage girls aren’t getting accurate information about sex in school, then maybe they can get it from their OB/GYN. I’m wondering: Are parents who advocate abstinence-only education delaying the date of their daughters’ first visit to the gynecologist?
Speaking from personal experience, my parents are conservative Catholics who believe strongly in abstinence-only until marriage. I made my first OB/GYN appointment by myself, and I was way older than 13. This article certainly makes the case that more girls would benefit from starting a relationship with their gyno at an earlier age, even if they aren’t sexually active.
Thoughts? Do you think age 13-15 is too young to see the gynecologist, or should we be encouraging girls to be comfortable with their doctor at an earlier age?

Join the Conversation

  • Jessica

    I think that anything that makes teen girls more comfortable with their body is a good thing. If starting to see a gyno at 13 (sexually active or not) means the ever-elusive vagina isn’t seen as scary and dirty, I’m all for it.
    I started seeing a gyno at 14, and I certainly didn’t think I was too young.

  • tfreridge

    I agree completely! (are you suprised?) It seems entirely age appropriate for young woman to learn about their bodies by age 13.

  • Polly

    In Britain, you only see a gynaecologist if you need a specialist – why do you need them in the US? Surely you don’t need a medical specialist to help you get to know your own body? Doesn’t seeing a gynaecologist so early and with no discernable problems just link the vagina to a medical context, i.e dirtiness, pathologising? I think there must be better ways for 13 year olds to learn about their bodies. I find it weird that so much attention (and money) is spent on healthy vaginas in America.

  • epi

    i definitely like this idea, and i think it has the power to help girls be more assertive about getting the medical care they need from gynecologists. i know that my first gynecologist appointment was scary as hell (resulting in me fainting after the exam…), but that it also provided me with the chance to ask questions and to understand risk factors. since then, however, none of my doctors (as a college student, i get a different one every time) have really bothered to listen or answer my questions, just focusing on “okay, pelvic exam… next patient!” maybe if girls started off with a “gynecological encounter” then the importance of the visit being a place for questions as well as medical observation would be emphasized.

  • http://lamom.blogs.com LAmom

    I think menarche would be a good time for a first gynecologist or MIDWIFE visit. The perfect time to discuss the menstrual cycle, female anatomy and physiology, fertility, and women’s health.
    none of my doctors (as a college student, i get a different one every time) have really bothered to listen or answer my questions, just focusing on “okay, pelvic exam… next patient!”
    Midwives generally spend much more time talking, listening, and answering questions during patient visits, even “routine” annual gyne exams.

  • astrid

    I’ve read in a lot of plaes (teen magazines, I guess) that if you’re not having sex you should see a gynecologist if you’re over eighteen. I just sort of took this as fact, but really it doesn’t make any sense, because while eighteen makes you a legal adult, it isn’t really a time when anything special starts happening to your body.
    I had my first exam when I was seventeen, a few months after I first had sex.

  • WookieMonster

    I know a woman in her mid 20s who was raised by fundies who has to this day never seen a GYN or gone to any sort of doctor for a reproductive system problem. So yeah, at least some fundies are delaying their daughters first GYN visits.

  • dawndenver

    When I was in the 6th grade I was given a pelvic exam. I was overweight and I knew that my mother was very concerned. One day after school mother picked me up and said that I had appointment to see a new doctor. At the time I did not think much of it. The doctor turned out to be a woman, which was fine. Mother and I talked to the doctor in her office. The doctor walked me to the exam room, while Mom waited in the doctor’s office. At first I thought this exam was going to be like other examinations. But I started to get the idea that this exam was going to be different than other doctor’s visits when I was told to remove my panties. Then when the doctor had me scoot down on the table, and place my feet the stirrups. I knew then that this exam was going to be different, but I did not know how different. Soon I felt as though I were being clamped to the table. I now know that this was the speculum exam. But at the time I thought that I was being clamped to the table to be given a shot or something. I was very scared. The doctor did a complete internal exam, including a rectal exam. I found the rectal exam very unpleasant and upsetting. At this time I did not even know that girls or women were exam and like this one. On the way home I told my mother hollow angry I was with her for what she did, and not telling me what was going to happen. I was very upset with her for doing this to me.
    As for what it achieved. It did make me very fearful of having a pelvic exam. In general I avoid them, and do not have regular exams. I was so embarrassed I never told any of my friends until I was about 20. I told myself I would never have my daughter subjected to a pelvic exam like that, and I never did. Finally when she was about 18 she decided for herself that she wanted to see a Gyn. It being her own idea and being older made it far less dramatic, that my experience. When very young girls are given, or must have a pelvic exam my heart goes out to them. I think that the girls should be told up front what is going to happen and why. I know that it can be a must that a pelvic exam is given, but it should not be a surprise type of thing.

  • FlaGyn

    I am a practicing OB/GYN (30 years) and I absolutely believe that “get acquainted” visits for young women of 14-15 years old is very much a good idea. The first visit(s) to a gynecologist are going to have a lot to do with how comfortable she is acquiring healthcare for her entire life.