First gynecological exam debunked: What parents need to know

Girls in the U.S. get their first period around age 12. The question of when and why their child should have a gynecological exam can cause anxiety for parents — here is what you should know.

Girls in the U.S. get their first period (menstruation) around age 12. As a parent, you may wonder: When should my daughter see a gynecologist for the first time? At what age should a girl have a Pap smear? My daughter isn’t menstruating or sexually active … why should she see a gynecologist? Here is what parents should know about that first gynecological visit and why girls need gynecological care.

First gynecological exam is about establishing care and a relationship — not a pelvic exam

Girls should have their first gynecological exam between the ages of 13 and 15. This is to help girls understand that there is a doctor dedicated to their reproductive health.

“The first exam is usually conversational, “said  Kimberly S. Huhmann, pediatric gynecologist with Norton Children’s Gynecology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “It’s about building a relationship so that a young woman knows they have a health care provider dedicated to helping them. Having a relationship with a pediatric gynecologist can help girls take ownership of their health as they age.”

It’s important that parents let their child know that for part of the visit with the gynecologist, they will have the opportunity to speak with the doctor alone.

“This is the opportunity for young women to discuss topics that they may have a hard time talking to their parent or guardian about,” Dr. Huhmann said. “Usually, those discussions are about topics such as puberty, issues with periods, acne, hygiene, contraception, exercise, mental health. It’s really about the young woman and her needs and concerns.”

At what age should a girl have a pelvic exam and a Pap smear?

According to Dr. Huhmann, a general physical is part of that first gynecological exam, with height, weight, and blood pressure being measured. However, a pelvic exam is usually not part of that first visit. Pelvic exams are recommended starting at age 21, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

A Pap test checks for abnormal changes in the cervix that could possibly lead to cancer. During the test, a sample of cells is taken from the cervix. ACOG guidelines state that women should have their first Pap test at age 21.

“If a girl is experiencing certain symptoms or issues, an external genital exam or pelvic exam may be needed. Rarely is a pelvic exam needed during that first visit, unless symptoms are present such as abnormal bleeding or pain.”

Norton Children’s Gynecology

Schedule an appointment with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist.

(502) 559-1750

Yearly gynecological exam? It depends

Adult women often associate gynecological exams with the pelvic exam and Pap smear schedule based on their age and health. For young women, it’s based on their needs.

“Even though these examinations are not needed in most young women under 21 years old,” Dr. Huhmann said. “We do recommend annual visits to the gynecologist. This allows us to check-in with the young woman and her family about her reproductive health questions, needs, and concerns.”

“Ask for an appointment should any issues come up,” Dr. Huhmann said. “If a child is experiencing irregular periods, excessive menstrual pain, frequent or infrequent periods, they need to be evaluated.”