Current guidelines state that regardless of when a woman first has intercourse, she does not need a pap test until she attains the age of 21. Prior to this the guidelines were that she should be tested when she became sexually active or attained the age of 21, whichever came first. The change in guidelines has caused confusion about when testing should begin.
If a woman does not need a pap until she is 21, why should she visit the OB/GYN prior to then if she isn’t pregnant? While the overall list of important issues your OB/GYN can cover is lengthy, I will quickly touch on a few.
First, a Well Woman Visit is a great time to learn about healthy sexual relationships, regardless of whether a young woman is sexually active or not. An OB/GYN can teach about safe sex, and answer many questions she may be embarrassed to ask her parents. They can help a patient understand if she is in a safe and healthy relationship, or if her relationship is harmful. With the myriad of birth control options, the doctor can help her determine which birth control is right for her. The use of an appropriate birth control early on is a big step in avoiding unintended pregnancy. Importantly, a women’s health care provider can discuss warning signs of various sexually transmitted diseases, to help her be aware of symptoms to watch for.
Second, a physician or nurse practitioner can discuss the patient’s general health. Many aspects of our health start with habits formed from an early age and these habits tend to stick with us for a lifetime. Because of this, it is important to make lifestyle changes as early as possible. As a woman ages, she is at a high risk for bone problems, many of which can be prevented by taking the appropriate steps at a young age.
Third, many young woman have questions about their periods. Is her period normal? Is it too long, or too painful? Why is her period worse than her best friend’s? It is important to understand that all women are different when it comes to their cycles, and there is a wide range of “normal”. Hearing from a professional that her period is “normal” can be a huge relief to a young woman. The provider can also offer suggestions about regulating cycles.
This is just a brief summary of the many important things to discuss with your women’s health care provider prior to the age of needing the first pap test (and long after). Annual Well Woman Examinations provide an excellent opportunity for counseling and preventative screenings. Please remember, always contact your physician with any questions.
We are accepting new patients. Call our office at 817-741-2601 to make an appointment. We look forward to providing you with exceptional health care!