Should My Teen See an Ob-Gyn? Here’s What I Tell Parents.
Ob-gyn visits are a safe space for teens to talk about their health needs.
Every so often, an adult patient will ask me about something her teen is going through. “My daughter’s periods are really unusual,” this mother might say toward the end of her own visit. “Can she come see you?”
Adolescence is marked by many milestones, including a teen’s first visit with an ob-gyn. This experience can set the stage for a lifetime of talking about reproductive and sexual health.
There are many reasons teens might want to start seeing an ob-gyn. Some reasons are routine, and others less so. So when’s the right time?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends teens start seeing an ob-gyn between the ages of 13 and 15. You can schedule this first visit “just because” to be proactive. But in my experience, the appointment is usually prompted by a question or concern related to the teen’s development.
Here are just some of the reasons teens may start seeing an ob-gyn. (This infographic has the full list.) And if you need help finding an ob-gyn for your teen? Your own ob-gyn or your teen’s doctor are great people to ask for a recommendation.
1. They have not gotten their period. In the United States, most girls get their period between ages 12 and 14. If your teen hasn’t gotten her first period by 15, it’s worth checking with an ob-gyn. We can assess whether any underlying issues are causing the delay.
2. Their periods are troublesome. What counts as a “normal” period can vary for teens, as it can for adult women. Still, if your teen’s periods seem different from what you’d expect, or if your teen is bothered by them, ob-gyns can help. Whether periods are very painful, very heavy, coming too often, or not coming often at all—we can address these concerns.
3. They are struggling with puberty. Periods are only the beginning. Teens may have other puberty concerns too, such as heavy acne or unwanted hair growth. An ob-gyn can help discuss these questions and possible treatments. Ob-gyns can also reassure teens about normal signs of development.
4. They are sexually active or in a serious relationship. Sex and relationships are a normal part of growing up. Teens should be able to talk about them in a safe way. An ob-gyn visit can be a great opportunity for your teen to explore these topics with a neutral adult. Ob-gyns can discuss it all, from choosing birth control and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to understanding what makes a healthy relationship. Remember, many parents think their teens aren’t having sex when they actually are. Your ob-gyn can also coach you on how to bring up this topic with your teen.
(Teens should be able to speak privately with their ob-gyn, though some state laws and insurance policies may affect what can be kept confidential.)
5. They are questioning their gender identity. More ob-gyns are becoming well versed in gender identity issues, both physical and emotional. These doctors can be a resource for talking with teens about their gender identity. If and when teens want to explore a transition, ob-gyns can talk about the process. They can discuss medications that can pause the onset of puberty, and other medications that can begin a hormonal transition. An ob-gyn can also help address any mental health needs your teen may have related to gender identity.
One thing to clarify: Ob-gyn visits are closely associated with pelvic exams and Pap tests. This fact alone is enough to make teens nervous. It may help to know that the first visit won’t include a pelvic exam unless absolutely necessary—and even then, only with a teen’s consent. As for Pap tests? They aren’t recommended under age 21.
Instead, your teen should think of the visit as a chance to get one-on-one health advice in a safe, comfortable setting. You can encourage your teen to write down any questions they have ahead of time, and to write down the answers during the visit. This is a good lifelong practice for any type of doctor’s visit.
Setting the stage
Your teen’s first visit to an ob-gyn can feel like a big deal. And it is! As a parent, I understand that watching your kids grow up can be as exciting and confusing for you as it is for them.
Whatever the reason for that first visit, my role as an ob-gyn is to help young people form a positive relationship with their bodies. I want my patients to know how to talk about their health questions and get the support they need—no matter their age.
Published: March 2022
Last reviewed: March 2022
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This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.