Going to the gynecologist for the first time is an important step in a young woman’s wellness journey. It is an appointment dedicated to topics that are often societally stigmatized like menstrual cycles and other unique characteristics of female anatomy. The first trip to the gynecologist is a direct acknowledgement of womanhood that may seem daunting. But instead of it being a mystified event to fear, it should be a milestone to embrace! Yet, because every woman develops in different ways and at different rates, it may be difficult to know when that inaugural appointment should be scheduled. Should a young woman go right after getting her first period or does she wait until it becomes fairly regular? Or does she even wait until she wants to become sexually active?
Though a variety of factors may impact an individual’s decision, experts at The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and at Yale Medicine recommend that girls go for their first appointment between 13 and 15 years old. This age range suggestion is based in the science of puberty. The average age for a girl’s first normal menstruation, also known as menarche, is 12.43 years old. By age 15, 98% of girls have experienced menarche. It is natural for girls to have questions about such a significant developmental change. It is best to get answers from an expert. Even in the rare event that a young woman has not had her period by 15 years old, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, she has most likely encountered state-mandated sex education within her school curriculum. Going to the gynecologist is then a great opportunity for a young teen to assert agency over her own sexual wellness by not allowing it to remain an abstract topic in a classroom. Routine annual checkups henceforth will also help her articulate her sexual health concerns and needs as they evolve.
Much of the hesitation in scheduling the first gynecology appointment stems from questions surrounding age-appropriateness. Again, every woman develops differently and may be ready for certain discussions at different times. Fortunately, gynecologists understand how to have age-appropriate conversations around sexual wellness. A gynecology appointment for a 13-year-old is not going to be the same as one for a 22-year-old, 35-year-old, 47-year-old, etc. Discussions and the very structure of the appointment are tailored to the developmental maturity of the patient. For example, most women do not have a pelvic exam or a Pap test until they are 21 years old, regardless of when they become sexually active. However, becoming familiar with the gynecologist sooner rather than later prepares women for these different stages of maintaining sexual wellness as they come.
In essence, the first trip to the gynecologist is nothing to fear. It is natural to have questions. It is also natural to be nervous. But sexual and reproductive health influences a woman’s overall wellness, making it all the more important to embrace. Following recommendations from experts and taking initiative over her own health will serve a young woman well for a lifetime.