When should girls start going to the gynecologist? The general consensus from the medical community and public health education is that a girl need not see a gynecologist until she becomes sexually active..I disagree.
Reproductive Care Should Begin with the First Period
Consider this; the average age of menarche in the United States is a little above 12 years of age. The average age a woman loses her virginity in the United States is 17. Based on what is taught in health class, that leaves 5 years of no reproductive care for the average American female. Although the average teenager may not need annual visits to the gynecologist, reproductive care should not be ignored. This means pediatricians must be better informed about gynecological care.
Just because a young girl is not sexually active does not mean her reproductive system does not exist. Amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and menorrhagia are all terms (or concepts) that young girls of reproductive age should be familiar with; and yet a majority of girls of reproductive age would not be able to identify any of these terms.
Abnormal Periods are a Sign of Trouble
Young girls should be taught that abnormal periods, painful periods (dysmenorrhea), an absence of periods (amenorrhea), or extremely heavy periods (menorrhagia) are not normal and should be evaluated by a doctor. In many cases, finding the causes of abnormalities in menstruation early on, could prevent further complications down the road.
Most women who have uterine or menstrual abnormalities do not get a diagnosis or proper treatment until they discover they cannot conceive. That is because by the time these women go to the gynecologist for the first time they have been lead to believe that abnormal is their normal.
When I was twelve I was getting my period every other week and I was told that was normal and that every girls’ period takes some time to regulate – which is true. However, it wasn’t true for me. I had endometriosis and uterine didelphys (two uteri) which required surgery, but because I was young, it was two and a half years before my painful periods were taken seriously. This is an all-too-common experience. Many women report suffering for decades.
In the case where a young girl’s menstrual problems are impacting her daily life – isn’t it better to be safe, rather than sorry? Read my full health story here.
The Need for Pediatric Gynecologists
Pediatricians and family doctors alike need to sit down with their female patients and have a detailed discussion about menstruation. No one should assume that health education in secondary schools is adequate to teach a young girl to stand up for her own reproductive care. The stigma of being too young (or not yet sexually active) to go see the gynecologist should be disregarded. Regardless of age, if any other part of the body wasn’t working one would go to the doctor to get it looked at; the same should go for the reproductive system.
How old were you at your first gynecologist appointment? When did your menstrual problems begin?
I love how you point out how immensely important it is to learn about your body and reproductive care. My partner’s little sister is starting to go through puberty and we want to make sure she knows about herself. We’ve been looking into finding a local gynecologist she can trust and go to get care.
In England, teens don’t go to the gyno unless there is a real problem, but I tend to think that it would be beneficial for them to get regular check-ups when they start their period as that is when potential hormone issues can start. In view of the prevalence of chemical and environmental toxicity, reproductive hormone disorders are on the rise and an increasing number of girls are suffering from things like PCOS, which – if caught early – could potentially be a lot easier to treat.
Personally, I did not see a gyno ever until I moved to Germany in my early 20s, but over there they are almost too zealous, forcing you to go for an ultrasound, pap smear and check-up every six months if you are on the pill. Thankfully, the insurance always pays though. That said, I could frankly have done without it and I didn’t like being forced to do it. Going on the pill is another argument for regular check-ups though because that in itself can cause serious issues such as thrombosis.
It is my wish that more gynos would actually explain what the potential issues and side effects of the pill can be because I feel that the truth is very much sugar-coated and it is “sold” to patients as an easy and convenient way not to get pregnant. Not a single one of the various gynos I ever saw ever mentioned that the pill itself can be damaging though. Had I known this back then, I would never have stayed on it for as long as I did and I in fact took myself off the pill without the consent of my gynecologist because I knew that I didn’t need it anymore. I was right of course because we know our own bodies best.