May 15, 2006
To help teen girls learn how to maintain good sexual health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is recommending that they see a gynecologist (or OB/GYN) when they are 13-15 years old.
At a teen girl's initial visit, an OB/GYN can discuss menstruation and sexuality issues; answer any questions about prevention of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs); and make referrals if the girl is struggling with a weight problem, mental health issue, eating disorder, or other problem.
"Interaction with an OB/GYN they trust allows teens to get answers to questions that they may be too embarrassed or afraid to raise with parents and friends," said Marc Laufer, MD, chair of ACOG’s Committee on Adolescent Health Care. "OB/GYNs also can encourage teens to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that they can carry into adulthood."
ACOG laid out its position in a new committee opinion that appears in the May 2006 issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
ACOG has previously recommended a visit between the ages of 13-15. But officials said they wanted to stress the importance of an initial OB/GYN visit, above and beyond the first pelvic exam. ACOG wanted to emphasize to parents, patients, and health care providers the importance of establishing this relationship early, before problems come up, the officials said.
More than 85% of teens have been sexually active, according to ACOG, who also state that nearly one-third of all 9th-graders and roughly 60% of all 12th-graders report having had sexual intercourse.
Doctors can use the visit to provide a teen with early and accurate information about sex, including how to use condoms and other forms of contraception. If a teen is already sexually active, she can be screened for certain STDs.
At the first visit, parents can also get answers to questions they may have, including the doctor’s confidentiality policy for treating young teens.
What this means to you. It can be uncomfortable to talk to your daughter about sexual development — and even more difficult to deal with the prospect of her being sexually active. But keep in mind that the effort you make to educate your daughter now — and help her access the appropriate medical care — can go a long way toward helping her stay healthy and safe as she grows.
Along with encouraging abstinence, sex education that includes the facts about contraception is the most effective way to prevent a teen from getting pregnant or contracting an STD, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The prospect of going to an OB/GYN and having a pelvic exam may make your daughter feel nervous, embarrassed, or scared. By explaining why the visit is necessary, giving her a sense of what to expect, and addressing any questions or fears she might have, you can help her feel more comfortable about taking this step.
Chances are, your daughter has associated visits to the doctor with health problems. She may not understand why she would go to the doctor when she feels perfectly fine. Explain that at this visit, she can get accurate information and confidential answers to any questions she may have about sex, sexuality, and her changing body. Also, the doctor can make sure her reproductive organs are developing as they should and treat any related health problems that may be cropping up.
Also, reassure your daughter that even though there are a lot of different elements of a visit to the OB/GYN, the pelvic exam — the part she might feel most uncomfortable about — doesn't take long. In fact, a pelvic exam often isn’t done at the initial visit to the OB/GYN.
As you consider taking this step, talk with your pediatrician or family doctor about finding an OB/GYN who's right for your daughter.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2006