Going to the doctor’s can be a daunting and overwhelming task. In fact, people often have different experiences at doctors’ offices. A study conducted by the New York Times showed “that female patients and people of color are more likely to have their symptoms dismissed by medical providers.” The expert advice given to combat this was: keep asking questions.
Keep reading for tips on medically advocating for yourself throughout your reproductive journey, including: how to find gender inclusive OB/GYNs, how to talk to parents/guardians about birth control, and more.
How to talk about puberty for the first time
First of all, be unapologetic. It's natural for you to be going through puberty. Hormones, mood, emotions, body hair, everything’s up for change.
Depending on what information you’re looking for, you could choose to start conversations about puberty with just one person, a couple different people, or many trusted post-puberty role models. Be sure to discuss these topics in a place where you feel comfortable and safe.
You could ask them questions verbally (either face-to-face or on the phone), you could also tell them through text or even write them a letter. If it’s period products you’re looking for, you could also always add them onto the grocery list.
Once you get past the first conversation about puberty, it will hopefully become natural and normal to discuss.
When you should go to your first OB/GYN appointment
“We suggest coming to see an OB/GYN just to say hi at some point as a teenager, whether you're sexually active or not. You can ask us all of your questions. We will recommend testing for sexually transmitted infections if you are sexually active (even if it's just oral sex). We don't start doing pap smears until you are 21 years old." – Dr. Heather Irobunda, from the August Medical Board
It’s always good to remember that an OB/GYN is not just for birth control or pregnancy related topics! If you are sexually active it is great to get STI tested at your OB/GYN. Also, if you get periods and are interested in helping regulate your cycle, ease cycle symptoms, help with skin issues, PCOS, or endometriosis symptoms the OB/GYN can assist with those topics too!
What do OB/GYNs check for?
The gynecological exam usually includes a pelvic exam, a pap smear test, a breast exam and possibly a urine sample. Check up exams are recommended every year. The pap smear checks for precancerous or cancerous cells. Once you get your first pap smear at around 21 years old (and the results are normal) you only need to receive another pap smear every three years. In the past people above the age of 30 were recommended to have pap smear tests done every year, new recommendations suggest testing every three years (an even five years if you are also being tested for the Human Papillomavirus HPV) is fine too. The gynecologist can also test for STIs as well as HPV. You can also talk to your OB/GYN about birth control and other questions you might have about your changing body. You are always welcome to have a nurse/staff member present while a gynecological exam takes place, all you have to do is ask (it is totally normal).
How can I make sure that the OB/GYN I am going to is gender inclusive?
The best way to start is by word-of-mouth. Ask gender non-conforming people in your network about gender-inclusive OB/GYNs and their local OB/GYN experiences. Another great option is to visit an LGBTQIA+ center in your city and ask them for recommendations. If you are up for some solo research, check online and read the reviews of all your local OB/GYNS. One definite indicator of an inclusive practitioner is their language. For example, are they using inclusive language like ‘menstruator’, ‘people with a uterus’, ‘person on their period’, etc. ?
In partnership with Schuyler Bailar, August created a ‘Gender Inclusivity Guide’ that (obviously) mostly focuses on periods but also provides some insights into opening up space for gender inclusivity by way of advocacy and education! Check it out HERE. If you are specifically interested in learning more about advocating for yourself as a part of the Transgender and Non-binary community you can read more in our Sex+ Health Guide article here.
How to have a conversation about birth control
Talking to guardians, parents, and partners about sex and birth control can sound much scarier or more awkward than it is in practice. You may be nervous that your guardians/ parents will be upset or angry if you bring up the topic of how to get on birth control, but more likely than not, they will be grateful that you want to protect your health. Also, your parents are likely aware that this conversation would surface at some point.
Open the conversation in a comfortable and safe environment – you don’t want to feel rushed or cornered talking about your health. Tell them what it is you are interested in and how they can help (if that is what you want). You can ask them about different options and talk through what works best for your needs.
If you’re interested in having a direct conversation with a doctor, that’s great too! You can always be honest about your needs with your doctor, after all, they are there to support your medical needs! You should be able to schedule doctor’s appointments without your guardian’s help if you would like, but in some states you will need parental consent to receive birth control medication if you are under the age of 18.
How to make sure your doctor is hearing out your concerns (including irregularities with your period)
Irregularities can happen often with reproductive health, but it can be confusing and sometimes scary. That is why keeping track, taking personal notes, and discussing the details of changes you notice are important. It can be hard to tell what are commonly occurring irregularities and what may be more underlying issues. It is okay to keep asking doctors questions and get second opinions. It is important to speak confidently about your concerns and come to your doctor prepared with tracked periods, descriptions of any irregularities, and any other symptoms that you may have observed in your body.
We’re here to help empower you to medically advocate for yourself on your journey to get to know your body’s needs. We are hopeful that everyone’s voices will be heard when it comes to their health and that society will get more comfortable talking about reproductive health and sex education.
Verified by the following August Medical Board members:
Verified by the following TwentyEight Health Medical Advisors:
These articles were written in collaboration with August, a company dedicated to sustainable period products and making education and discussion about menstruation accessible and destigmatized.