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I'm now 25, which means that in the UK I have to go and get my first smear test done. I'd been putting it off for six months, despite the scare-mongering leaflets in the post and the fact that I really knew I should go.
These are the things I was worried about, and the things I learned.
But first, some medical info:
A pap smear is a medical test where a doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina, and then uses a really big Q-tip to take a cells from your cervix. This tests primarily for the PAP virus, which can mutate to cause cancer. So ladies, we can be uncomfortable for five minutes to make sure we don't have cancer.
1. I was worried about the pain and I learned there wasn't any.
Like my doctor said, "It's embarassing to have someone look at your hoo-ha, but there's no reason it should be painful."
Ask for a small speculum, if it's your first time. They can't add lubricant because it affects the results, and you can't have sex for a few days before hand. Chances are you'll be nervous, so do yourself a favour.
The cervix moves around during your cycle and your day, so sometimes they have to move the speculum around to find it. Again, this might feel weird and a bit like stretching, but it shouldn't be painful. If it's painful, ask for a smaller speculum. Weirdly, wiggling your toes helps.
Also remember your cervix doesn't have nerve endings, so you'll feel a bit weird but there's no pain. Not unless your doctor is awful and you can always always ask them to stop.
You can ask to see all the equipment, to have them talk you through the procedure, and you can absolutely request a chaperone if you don't feel comfortable. You're the boss.
2. I was worried about bleeding and I learned it's normal.
Most people don't bleed during their pap test. However, if you take hormonal contraception (like the pill, or the implant, or injection) this can cause some spotting because your capillaries are more fragile, or something.
The nurse gave me a pad (but you can bring one with you, I was not prepared) and sent me away, telling me to come back if the bleeding persisted, but that she was not worried. If your doctor isn't worried, you shouldn't be either. Yes, I know that's easier said than done.
Keep in mind that if you're having severe anxiety and are quite tense, this can also cause the slight spotting.
Please, if your bleeding is severe and hemorrhagic, see a doctor.
3. I was worried about the nurse and I learned they're trained for that too.
I specifically requested a female doctor. I was worried that she would make me feel inadequate and embarrassed about my body, and that my vagina was somehow "not good enough" or "weird." We really do not grow up with enough sex-ed.
She was an older lady, and she was very kind. I know these nurses do dozens of these procedures every week, but I really felt like she cared about me and I was more than just a tick box to check.
It is absolutely okay to tell your nurse it is your first smear test and you're anxious. Or, to request a chaperone if you don't want to be alone. Bring your friend, boyfriend or sister. They won't mind—they're trained for everything.
If your nurse makes you uncomfortable, get a new nurse.
Anything you're worried about, tell your nurse. Chances are that she'll know what to do. If she's a woman, she also has her smear tests done, so she knows exactly how you feel.
They're medical professionals, there to look after you.
I'll say it again for those in the back:
We can be uncomfortable for five minutes to ensure we don't have cancer.