Gynecology ("gyn" for short) is a medical field that focuses on the female reproductive system. A gyn
checkup is a yearly health check — like a regular eye exam or dental checkup.
Doctors often call gyn checkups "well woman visits" because they're designed
to keep you healthy by catching small issues before they turn into big ones. This
could be even before you realize you have an issue. It's sort of like when a dentist
finds a cavity before it gives you a toothache.
Doctors might call the yearly checkup a "gyn exam," but there's very
little actual examining involved. A doctor or nurse may quickly look at your breasts
and external genitalia to be sure everything's OK. But most of the visit will be spent
Some of the things you'll discuss are periods, breast growth, birth control, STDs,
sexuality, relationships, pregnancy, and body
image. Most important, you'll have a chance to ask questions about anything —
like how your breasts look, if
you should shave your pubic hair
or not, or if the things you've heard about STDs are true.
When Should I Get a Gyn Checkup?
Doctors recommend girls get a first gynecology checkup sometime between ages 13
and 15. Most girls have started going through puberty by then, so it's a good time
to check that everything's developing OK.
After your first appointment, you should go for a gyn checkup once a year, even
if you feel fine. Because most of your reproductive system is hidden inside your body,
you can't always tell if there's a problem. Talking about what's going on with your
body gives doctors or nurses a heads up if anything's not quite right.
Most girls don't need breast exams
or pelvic exams until they're
21. If a doctor or nurse notices anything unusual, though (or if you have problems,
like heavy bleeding, missed periods, vaginal sores or itchiness, discharge, or other
symptoms) you may get a pelvic exam at your gyn appointment. Doctors may do breast
or pelvic exams if you have a family history of problems.
What Happens During a Gyn Checkup?
When you arrive for your appointment, the office staff will ask for your health
insurance information and give you forms to fill out. The forms will include questions
the date of your last period
any health conditions you might have (like diabetes or asthma)
medications you take
your lifestyle and health habits (like exercise or smoking)
your family health history (like if your parents have any health problems)
if you are, or have been, sexually active (meaning vaginal, oral, or anal sex)
if you've ever been pregnant
if you are using birth control and what type
A nurse or medical assistant will take you into the exam room to weigh you and
get your blood pressure. If the doctor is going to do a quick visual check of things
like breast growth, you will be left alone to get undressed. The assistant or nurse
will give you a robe to wear and a sheet to cover you.
Your doctor will look at your breasts to figure out where you might be in your
growth and if you are developing normally. She or he will then take a quick look at
your external reproductive organs (your vaginal opening and the area around it) to
be sure everything's OK.
If your doctor decides you need a pelvic
exam, you may feel nervous, but it shouldn't hurt. Most girls only feel a little
pressure or discomfort during the exam. It helps to stay as relaxed as possible and
to remember that the exam itself is very brief. Breathe deeply and think about things
that calm you. If it's your first pelvic exam, let your doctor know. He or she can
explain what's going on and you can ask questions. If at any time you want the exam
to stop, you can just say so.
If you haven't had the HPV vaccine
yet, you should discuss it with your doctor or nurse, because it is recommended for
all girls between the ages of 11 and 26. She may also recommend other immunizations
to protect you against STDs, such as a hepatitis
Some doctors and
like to meet with you first, then examine you. Others do an exam first.
A parent can stay with you in the examining room if you want. But if you'd rather
not have a parent with you at any point in your checkup, let the doctor or nurse know.
Most doctors will spend some alone time with you during your visit, though they may
include your parent in a separate discussion.
Doctors understand the importance of keeping things private and confidential. Ask
your doctor or nurse what he or she plans to tell your parent ;about your exam and
let them know if there's anything you don't feel comfortable sharing. Different states
have different rules when it comes to patient confidentiality. If you're worried about
privacy, ask about the office policy when you call to make an appointment.
If you've ever had sex, the doctor or nurse might test for STDs.
That means providing a urine sample or vaginal swab for the doctor to send to a lab
for analysis. Sometimes a blood test might be needed,
If you get a vaginal swab done in the doctor's office, the doctor or nurse will
quickly wipe a cotton swab inside your vagina to collect a sample of mucus. Some places
give you a kit to take home and get the sample yourself.
Doctors do their best to keep your results confidential. Talk to your doctor or
a nurse about how you want to get your STD test results, and what they should do if
they can't reach you directly.
There are lots of rumors floating around about sex and sexuality. Your gyn appointment
is a chance to get real answers.
Write down any questions you have in the days before the appointment. Take the
list with you so you don't forget anything. If you feel shy or embarrassed asking
a question, you can just give your list to the doctor or nurse.
It might be awkward talking about some topics at first, especially if you've never
had sex and aren't planning on it. But the best time to talk about sex and relationships
is before you need to know, so you're fully prepared when the time comes.
There's another advantage to getting past any weirdness and talking about sex with
your doctor: The more you talk about difficult topics, the more comfortable you'll
get. That can make it easier to talk
to parents about any sensitive topic — not just sex. Your doctor can also give
you tips on how to talk to partners
about condoms, STDs, and other
sexual health topics.
Who Does the Checkup?
Gyn checkups are often done by a gynecologist (often called "OB-GYN,"
short for "obstetrician-gynecologist"), but you don't have to see a gynecologist.
Family doctors, adolescent health
specialists, nurse practitioners, and pediatricians also do gyn checkups. Some
girls visit a health clinic (like Planned Parenthood).
Both male and female doctors can do a gyn checkup. The most important thing is
to be comfortable with the person who is examining you.
Making the Appointment
If you're 13 or older and your parents haven't said anything about a gyn checkup,
let them know you'd like one. It's best to include parents in your health care. If
you want to go to a doctor's office, you may need to involve a parent or other adult
because of insurance (it can be expensive otherwise).
If you can't involve your parents, you can go to a health clinic like Planned Parenthood.
Some high schools have on-site clinics that offer reproductive health care. Clinic
staff are fully trained and often care for you at a lower cost.
Before you go to your appointment, write down any questions you have. Make a note
of the date when you had your last period. Take your health insurance card or information
After the Checkup
The office or clinic will let you know if the doctor or nurse practitioner needs
to see you after your checkup. Otherwise, you won't need to go back for another year
— unless you notice any health problems, of course.
Gyn checkups help detect any problems early on, so you need to get one every year.
If you don't want to go back because you didn't like the doctor or nurse practitioner,
find a new doctor or clinic.