Scarleteen, sex ed for the real world

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M asks:

I heard somewhere that you only have to see your OBGYN annually AFTER you've started having sex. Since I haven't, I've only gone once in my life. Is this safe?

Hollie replies:

It seems like the answer to this question really depends on who you ask.

We know that it's advised that we go for annual checkups. This is where the doctor/nurse takes your blood pressure, listens to your heart and lungs, and goes over lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, etc) with you. So at what point should sexual health come into it? Excellent question.

Once a woman starts her period, she needs to be having some sort of discussion about her menstruation and sexual health with her doctor. Sometimes this is just a discussion, sometimes it's a visual exam, and sometimes it's an internal exam complete with Pap Smear (though most sources seem to agree that Pap Smears aren't necessary until the age of 18 or after intercourse). It's optimal to start early for many reasons; discussing this with your doctor allows him/her to chart your baseline and allows you both to watch for any variations. Doctors and nurses are also a great resource, and you're bound to learn something just by discussing it. Starting early also means thinking ahead; talking about birth control with your doctor just before you become sexually active isn't going to be awkward or weird if you've been having this discussions all along.

Whether or not it's safe that you've only gone once in your life depends on how old you, how long you've had your period for and whether or not you're sexually active. You should be having a gynecologic exam (the extent of this exam will vary, depending on circumstances as I've noted above) every year once you've started menstruating. Family doctors and clinics can do gynecologic exams too, and in many countries (such as Canada!), OB/GYN's are only used as specialists. You can find information about where to get a gynecologic exam by looking in the phone book or calling your local health unit.

Sexual Health 101: Hers
Your First Gynecologist Visit

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