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Helping a girl with reproductive health

Understanding how babies are made — and all the other amazing aspects of the female reproductive system — can help a girl feel a sense of pride and control. And learning healthy habits can help her be healthy now and in the future.

Keep reading to learn more about helping girls protect their reproductive health.

Need help with the facts?

Girlshealth.gov explains all about periods, pregnancy, and more. You can look at it together with a growing girl.

Helping girls avoid vaginal infections arrow. top

Signs of a vaginal infection include itching, burning, or pain in or around the vagina. They also include an unusual vaginal discharge, such as fluid that is green or smelly. These symptoms could be caused by a sexually transmitted disease (STD, also known as a sexually transmitted infection or STI). But vaginal infections are not always caused by sexual contact. Infections that a girl can get without sexual contact include bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.

You can help protect a girl’s vaginal health by encouraging her to:

  • Wash the outside of her vagina and her bottom every day with mild soap
  • Wipe from the front toward the back, not from the back to the front
  • Did you know?

    If a girl has pain, itching, or other symptoms around her vagina, don’t try to treat them yourself. She should see a doctor or other health professional who can figure out the cause and the right treatment.

  • Avoid tight underwear or clothes made of synthetic fibers like polyester that can trap heat. (Bacteria grow well in the heat.)
  • Change out of wet bathing suits and exercise clothes as soon as possible. (Bacteria also grow well in wet places.)
  • Change her underwear every day
  • Avoid douching. Putting water or other products in the vagina washes out some of the normal bacteria that help prevent infection.
  • Avoid hygiene products like bubble bath, sprays, pads, and tampons that are scented. They can irritate the vagina.

Helping girls avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) arrow. top

STDs (also known as STIs, or sexually transmitted infections) are common among girls, and they can cause very serious health problems. You can help protect a girl in many ways:

  • Make sure a girl knows how a person gets STDs. Explain that she can get an STD through vaginal intercourse or anal sex. She can also get an STD by putting her mouth, hands, or genitals on the genitals or on the sores of someone who is infected. And girls can get STDs from having sex with a male or with a female.
  • Explain that the only sure way to avoid STDs is not to have sexual contact. If a girl decides to have sex, tell her that she’ll be safer if:
    • She and her partner get tested for STDs
    • She and her partner have sex only with each other
    • She always uses a latex condom (but condoms don’t prevent all STDs)
  • Bust myths. Tell her that douching, urinating, or washing after sex does not prevent STDs.
  • Help her learn about STD symptoms and treatments. You can look at the girlshealth.gov STD chart together.
  • Make sure a girl knows that not all STDs cause symptoms. Testing is the only way to know if she has an STD. If she’s had sex even once, she should be tested. You can find places that test for STDs.
  • Encourage her to get help right away if she might have an STD. If you think she wouldn’t be comfortable coming to you about an STD, make sure she knows to turn to another trusted adult, like her doctor or a school nurse. 
  • If she has an STD, make sure she knows that her partner should be treated, too. Otherwise, they could just keep passing the disease back and forth.
  • Make sure she has the right vaccines. There is no vaccine to prevent all STDs.
    • A vaccine can help protect against hepatitis B, a serious STD that can cause liver damage.
    • A vaccine helps guard against HPV (human papillomavirus), which is very common and can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Girls (and boys!) should get the vaccine at 11 or 12 (but can get it later if they missed it). The vaccine is very safe and effective. And research shows that young girls who get the vaccine are not more likely to become sexually active than other girls. Read more about the importance of the HPV vaccine.

Taking a girl to see a gynecologist arrow. top

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a girl start seeing a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. That way she can start forming a relationship with the doctor and learning about her body. Whether she goes at that time or not, she should definitely visit a gynecologist or other health professional who can take care of women’s reproductive health if:

  • She has ever had sex
  • She has any period problems
  • She bleeds more than a few drops after sex. (Spotting after first sex is normal but may or may not happen.)
  • She has signs of an STD
  • She has stomach pain, fever, and fluid coming from her vagina that is yellow, gray, or green with a strong smell — all of which are possible signs of a serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

If a girl you care about is going for a gynecological visit, you can help.

  • Acknowledge that these visits sometimes can be stressful, and ask how she feels about it.
  • Point out that she’s being responsible by taking care of her body.
  • Help her understand what to expect during the visit. You might tell her that she probably won’t need a Pap test or pelvic exam until she’s 21.
  • Let her know that she usually can bring someone with her to the exam.
  • Encourage her to ask questions and participate in her care.

 

Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated June 02, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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