I’m 17 and I have an appointment with my gynecologist soon. Will she be able to tell during the pelvic exam that I’ve had sex with my boyfriend? My mom knows my gynecologist, so I don’t want her to know I’m sexually active. I’m really nervous about it.

First, we’re sorry you’re feeling so nervous about seeing your gynecologist. Ideally, doctor’s appointments would always be stress-free, but we know that’s not always how they go. First, we want to reassure you that your gynecologist can NOT tell whether you’ve had sex, even during a pelvic (sometimes called gynecological) exam.

No one can tell whether you’ve had sex unless you tell them.

It’s a myth that doctors can tell whether someone with a vagina has had sex by whether their hymen is torn.As we’ve talked about before, the hymen is a thin bit of skin that partially covers the vaginal opening. During puberty, it becomes more elastic. When something is inserted into the vagina (like fingers, tampons, toys, or a penis), the hymen stretches like a rubber band. Over time, it often wears away entirely. Sometimes, the hymen does tear. This can be from sex, or from gymnastics or riding a bike or any number of other things. Having a torn hymen doesn’t necessarily mean someone has had sex. And often, it’s very hard or impossible to tell whether a hymen has been torn at all. Often, people’s hymens never tear—they just stretch.

Even though your gynecologist won’t be able to tell whether you’ve had sex, it’s still important to talk openly and honestly about sex with them. This is so that they know whether to recommend STI testing, talk about birth control, and bring up other sexual health issues. This is also your opportunity to ask any other questions you have about your sexual health.

Of course, it’s hard to be honest when you’re worried that your mom will find out you’re sexually active.

If your mom will be there for the appointment, make sure you have some alone time with your doctor. Your gynecologist should ask your mom to leave the room for part of the appointment, so that you can talk with her alone. If she doesn’t, you could ask your mom to step out for a moment: “Hey Mom, is it ok if I talk to the doctor alone for a minute?” You could also talk to your mom before the appointment about having some time alone with your doctor.

The good news is that what you talk about with your doctor is private and confidential. There are some exceptions (for example, if they think you’ll hurt yourself or someone else), but talking about sex is not one of them. This means that it would NOT be ok for your doctor to tell your mom or anyone else what you talk about during your appointment.

Ask your doctor about what’s confidential and what’s not.

They can tell you more specifics and answer any questions you have. If you feel comfortable, this could also be a great chance to talk about the specific worries you have about your mom, and hopefully get some reassurance that what’s said in the exam room stays in the exam room.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to talk to your gynecologist about sex, think about seeing a different doctor. You could tell your mom that you don’t feel comfortable with having her friend as a gynecologist, and look for an alternative.

In most states, many sexual health services (like birth control and STI testing) are confidential for minors (people who are under 18 and not yet considered adults). This means that you can get them without your parents knowing or giving permission. The specifics of the law depend on where you live. If you live in the United States, you can check out this handy chart from the Guttmacher Institute to see what services are confidential, or just ask your doctor.

It’s common for young people to avoid telling their parents that they’re having sex. That’s completely understandable, especially if your parents have seemed uncomfortable talking about sex before, or have values about sex that you don’t share. However, if you feel at all comfortable, talking openly with your mom about this part of your life could help you feel supported and get the care you need. Learn more about how to talk to your mom about sex.