Purpose: To determine whether or not critical sexual health services are delivered to low-income girls, and to identify predictors of timely initiation of gynecologic care for sexually active adolescent girls. Few studies have addressed the interval between sexual debut and risk-appropriate primary care services.
Methods: We conducted an anonymous, cross-sectional, laptop-based, self-administered branching survey of 9th-12th grade girls in three Bronx public high schools (n = 819).
Results: Over half (60.0%) had an opportunity for confidential care at last clinical visit. Only 27% of sexually active girls had informed any clinician that they had been sexually active; 45% had ever had a pelvic exam. The mean interval between sexual debut and initial pelvic exam (our proxy for gynecologic care) was 13.3 months (range = 0-70 months, SD = 11.8 months). Cox proportional hazard modeling identified four predictors of time to first pelvic exam: experience of sexually transmitted infection (STI) or pregnancy (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.9), having disclosed sexual activity to any clinician (HR = 1.7), access to confidential care (HR = 3.1), and high self-efficacy for accessing confidential care (HR = 2.1).
Conclusions: Most sexually active girls have not told a clinician that they are sexually active and many have not had counseling related to sexual health. Delay between sexual debut and initial pelvic exam is substantial for low-income urban girls, and often occurs in reaction to pregnancy or STI. Setting of usual care does not predict timely gynecologic care, but access to confidential care does.