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When Should a Girl First See a Gynecologist?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: I am a single father of a teenage daughter. When is the right time for her to have a gynecologic exam?

A: The gynecologic exam is an important part of health care for all women. Its purpose is to evaluate the size and shape of the uterus (womb) and ovaries, to do a Pap smear to identify early signs of cervical cancer, and to screen for sexually transmitted diseases.

Young women and adolescents should start having gynecologic examinations when they turn 18 or when they first become sexually active (if that occurs before the age of 18). The examination may also be necessary before the age of 18 for concerns like abdominal (belly) pain, irregular or painful menstrual periods, or vaginal discharge. A young woman who has never had sex before can have a gynecologic exam.

The entire exam takes only a few minutes. The doctor will often ask a female chaperon to be present to make the patient feel more comfortable. This person can be a parent or friend or it can be another person from the doctor's office, like a nurse. The doctor explains what she is doing throughout the exam. Feel free to ask questions at any point. Afterwards, it's normal for the patient to have a small amount of blood spotting over the next day or so. Don't forget to check the results of the tests for sexually transmitted diseases and the Pap smear, which take a few days to come back.

Hank Bernstein
Children's Hospital

More on: Expert Advice

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


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