If the thought of going to the gynecologist makes you grimace just a bit, imagine how your kid might feel about their first gynecology appointment. No one particularly enjoys going to the doctor, and there's a ton of uneasiness associated with having a stranger ask you about and examine your most intimate body parts — no matter how nice or well-meaning they may seem.
Thankfully, you can do plenty of things as a parent to help ease your child's nerves ahead of that first appointment, as two OB-GYNs tell Scary Mommy. Having honest, open dialogue with your kid well before booking a visit to the gyno is crucial. If your child feels comfortable discussing their changing body with you, they will likely feel much more at ease discussing it with a doctor.
When to Schedule
So, how do you know when it's time to book an appointment? "There's no specific age for when a parent should start to make appointments for their kids to go to the gynecologist's office, but generally, the age when menstruation starts (usually around 13-15 years old) could be a good time to start," says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Chief Medical Officer at Verywell Health. "Of course, there are other factors to consider, such as if you know your child is sexually active or planning to become so soon. It's important to have these conversations in advance so that your child can be fully prepared and safe should they choose to begin being sexually active. A gynecologist can help navigate those conversations, explain the risks associated with sexual activity, and also arm them with proper protection methods."
"While not as common, younger children may need to see a gynecologist sooner in the case of an underlying medical condition, such as premature puberty or issues with organ development," adds Shepherd. "If a parent is also considering certain vaccinations, such as the HPV vaccine, you may make an appointment with a gynecologist as early as 11-12 years old to administer that regime."
But while current guidelines by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggest booking in that 13 to 15 age range, you don't want to pressure your child into making an appointment, particularly if they have regular periods and are not sexually active. In that case, it's OK to let them take the lead and let you know when they feel ready.
How to Prepare
If your child is experiencing some hesitation, it's up to you to help put them at ease and assure them that they should feel empowered to make decisions about their health, and that often means preventative care and getting to know their body. "Conversations should start at home to reduce any nervousness or fears ahead of time," says Shepherd. "Going to the gynecologist is an important part of proper health care — part of that care includes addressing the pelvic organs and giving education behind their functions. Parents should explain their reasoning for making the appointment and their particular situation."
You should ask them if they have preferences on the specific doctor they see (such as a female doctor instead of a male one) and whether or not they'd prefer to see the same gyno you do or someone with no family connection. If you need a recommendation for a welcoming and inclusive gynecologist, you can crowdsource recs from friends and family, local parent groups, your child's pediatrician, or by searching via The North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.
Ahead of the appointment, it might be helpful to discuss your family medical history and your child's own hospitalizations, surgeries, and medications. Normalize discussions about their body and experiences by letting them know there's no shame in discussing anything they have questions about or are curious about. Encourage honesty — there's no need to feel embarrassed. After all, doctors have truly seen it all, and they should feel no shame or fear.
Also, you can encourage your child to make a list of questions they'd like to ask, which might help ease nerves about forgetting something important. According to ACOG, young people might choose to share concerns about menstruation, birth control, acne, sex and sexuality, weight, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), emotions, and more with their gyno.
What to Expect
Generally speaking, there are two types of gynecological visits: checkups/" well-woman" visits, and visits to address a specific concern. "Unless a child is sexually active or has a health concern such as abnormal bleeding or pelvic pain, a pelvic exam won't occur," says Shepherd. "The doctor will ask about medical history and then perform a general physical exam, taking height, weight, and blood pressure. The doctor will also start by asking general health questions relating to menstruation, sexual activity, or if they're experiencing any concerns they want to discuss. Depending on the reason for the visit, the doctor may perform an external genital exam or a full pelvic exam if needed. Further testing may be done for those that are sexually active to check for STDs, and this can be done through urine or blood testing if no pelvic exam is needed." Current ACOG guidelines recommend the first pap smear at age 21, which should also help put your teen at ease if they're nervous about that part.
If your teen has concerns about privacy, Shepherd says that "most doctors will ask at some point to speak with the child privately while at the appointment, and they should feel comfortable discussing concerns or asking any questions freely."
You can also let your child know you're happy to join if they feel more comfortable with you in the room and you can remain completely clothed, adds Monte Swarup, MD, MPH, FACOG, board-certified in OB/GYN and founder of HPD Rx. Many gynecologists will have an additional staffer, such as a nurse, present during pelvic exams. "The doctor may also, at some point, ask the parent to leave so that they can talk with the patient in private. This can help a teen establish independence and the ability to share things that may be of concern or they feel embarrassed about."
"I encourage parents to communicate in advance with the provider they want their child to see," adds Swarup. "Depending on the provider, the parent will have the conversation first." This is especially important if your child has experienced sexual trauma or is nonbinary, transgender, gender non-conforming, has experienced gender dysphoria, or wants to transition. In this case, you can speak with the doctor/staff beforehand and let them know about your child's pronouns, specific concerns, and even preferred names for body parts so that they feel as comfortable as possible.
Finding gender-affirming care is disproportionately difficult, and ACOG notes that many LGBTQIA+ youth are unable to find competent, knowledgeable, and culturally-appropriate health care. But if your child has breasts, a cervix, or a vagina, it's crucial that they receive care and support from their family and their gynecologist.
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Chief Medical Officer at Verywell Health
Monte Swarup, MD, MPH, FACOG, board-certified in OB/GYN and founder of HPD Rx