You do not necessarily have to go to a gynecologist soon after getting your first period! Most girls go for the first time between ages 16-18. Sometimes they go sooner if they are planning to become sexually active or are having some kind of problem. I'm sure Molly will have a lot more insight into when is the best time to go to the gynecologist for the first time.
Before the pelvic exam, your healthcare provider will likely ask you some questions about your periods, your sexual history, and overall health. (Everything is confidential and she's definitely not judging you, so always be 100 percent honest with her!) Then she'll do a breast exam, gently feeling your breasts with her hands checking for lumps.
During the pelvic exam, she will insert a speculum (a little plastic tool that looks like a duck's bill) in your vagina and then open it. This allows her to take a look at your cervix. She will also do a Pap smear, which involves gently scraping a few cells from your cervix (it doesn't hurt!) and then looking at them under a microscope to check for abnormalities. She may also insert her finger and your vagina and press around lightly on your lower abdomen. The pelvic exam is typically over pretty quickly and she will likely let you know what is going to happen each step of the way to make you more comfortable with the whole process.
You can definitely visit the gynecologist after you start menstruating, but it's not necessary until you're sexually active or turn 18 (or you have a concern you want to address). I know it seems scary and most girls are nervous the first time they go to the gynecologist. But it's really okay. You can have your mom or another trusted female adult go in with you if you want.
The gynecologist will talk to you about your health history and do some of the standard doctor things like blood pressure, listen to your heart and chart your height and weight. Your visit will also likely include a breast examination. (Make sure to ask how to do that yourself, too -- it's important to know!) My gynecologist didn't begin pelvic exams until I was sexually active, I'm not sure if they start them right away now or not. You'll put your feet up and the gynecologist will use a special instrument to open your vagina a bit and then examine everything to make sure it's healthy and maybe take a sample of cells (called a Pap smear) to make sure there aren't any abnormal cells.
I know it sounds scary, but trust me when I say it's one of those things in life that sounds worse than it is.
Great questions Gillian! A lot of girls worry and wonder about their first pelvic exams. I'm going to tackle the second question first. Most girls don't need to have your first pelvic exam until you're pretty old: 18 years old or until you're sexually active. Chances are it'll be quite a while then after you start your period before you'll need to have your first pelvic exam. Sometimes if you have other issues like super rough cramps or extremely heavy periods, you might need to have a pelvic exam sooner. And if you ended up with a sexually transmitted infection or got pregnant, of course you'd have to have that sort of exam sooner as well. All in all though, if you are a typical teenager, you can rest easy knowing it'll be years before you need to cross that bridge.
When it is time, the exam itself isn't as bad as you might think. Your healthcare provider will talk you through the process knowing it's your first time and will try hard to make it as comfortable as possible for you. You'll be undressed from the waist down and laying on a table with your feet in special holders to allow your legs to be gently apart. Your healthcare provider will encourage you to relax your butt and vagina muscles and will slip a warmed up device called a speculum into your vagina. It's bigger than a tampon but your vagina can easily handle it, especially if you stay relaxed. Your healthcare provider than gently expands it just a little bit to expose your cervix and swabs your cervix to check for infection and cancer and then removes the speculum. After that, your provider with need to do a manual exam to feel your ovaries. He or she will put a couple of gloved fingers in your vagina and press on your belly to feel them and press in the center to feel your uterus. Lastly your healthcare provider may need to do a rectal exam where she places some lubricant on her gloved finger and puts her finger in your anus (your butt hole) to feel your uterus from behind. It sound gross but it's over quickly and then you're done. The whole thing takes about 5 minutes from start to finish but it's a big deal, especially the first time.
I hope knowing what to expect makes it easier! Know that you can bring a friend, a partner or even your mom with you for support and they can hang out at the head of the table and not see a thing to just give you a little extra strength if you think you'd like it! Good luck!