A smear test can be an intense experience. I vividly remember sitting in the waiting room, already late for work, and panicking about what was about to happen. At the time I was twenty-five and had never had anyone see my genitals apart from my husband. Although I had been sexually active since my early twenties, smear tests were only recommended for those who were twenty-five and above (unless of course there were concerns), and so there was never any need to go through an examination prior to this. Due to the ‘embarrassing’ nature of the procedure, I hadn’t asked my mother or female friends about it and so I was completely clueless as to what to expect. Would they laugh at me? What if they couldn’t get the doo-da (speculum) in? Was it going to hurt and if so, how much?
What is a smear test & why are they important?
A smear test, also known as a PAP smear in the US or a cervical screening exam, is a quick and simple test that checks for abnormal changes to the cells within the cervix. While abnormal cells are fairly common and often occur naturally, some can develop into cervical cancer.
“In short, attending your cervical smear test as often as required can help save your life.”
You’re eligible for a cervical smear test if you have a cervix, are between twenty-five and sixty-five years old, and you’re sexually active (or have ever been sexually active).
As the cells develop within our body, we often get no signs or symptoms of abnormal changes. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you attend cervical screening tests so that a better idea of your cervical health can be established.
5 Tips for making your smear test a more comfortable experience.
Be open & honest.
Instead of worrying myself into a place where it was almost definitely going to be a terrible experience, I should have been completely open and honest with the nurse carrying out my assessment.
If you’re feeling insecure and embarrassed about the procedure, ask for a female doctor or nurse when booking your appointment. Some practices have no issue with this request, but it’s always best to be prepared in case some practices are unable to accommodate you for various reasons.
Before you’re called in for your examination take a minute to think about anything that you should tell your GP or nurse. This could be things such as sexual history, any discomfort during intercourse, vaginismus (involuntery contraction of the cervix), if you suffer from PTSD, if you have infrequent penitatrive sex or if you aren’t yet sexually active. Depending on the circumstance, any of these issues could cause the procedure to be a little more uncomfortable than usual. This is normal and you shouldn’t worry, it’s simply because your body isn’t used to it.
Once in the treatment room the nurse will go through some questions before asking you to lay back on the bed. If you’re feeling worried about any pain or discomfort during the procedure, it’s perfectly fine to express your concerns to the nurse. They’ve seen it all before and chances are they’ll have some top tips to help you focus on relaxing. Also feel free to request a smaller speculum as they usually have one on hand for ‘first timers.’
If you find that things are feeling uncomfortable during the procedure, express your concerns to the nurse and try adjusting your position. Often you’ll find that they might even take things slower and add additional lubricant to the speculum to alleviate discomfort.
Once again, allow me to reiterate, always speak to your nurse about any concerns you have before, during and after the procedure.
Timing is important!
Although it’s possible to get a smear test during your period, many advise against it as it can decrease the accuracy when checking for things such as HPV (Human papillomavirus). It’s best to rearrange your smear for the beginning or end of your cycle if at all possible. If you have to reschedule, make a note of the date and ensure that the next appointment you make won’t cause the same issue.
Don’t know when your period is due? Period tracking apps are great for helping us track our cycle, including when your period is due and even when you’re ovulating. I personally use Clue for all my period tracking needs.
Don’t be afraid to do your research.
Although my motto for health concerns is usually ‘don’t go online’, it’s a rule i’m willing to bend for smear tests. If you take the time to do your research, it can really help to ease your anxiety and can even make the experience more tolerable. It’ll never be the most comfortable thing in the world. You wouldn’t go for a smear test as a way of enjoying yourself, but it’s necessary and can be a real life saver. So why not search for some helpful tips to make things a little easier?
Make sure you’re prepared.
There are a few things you can do in order to prepare yourself for your smear test physically as well as mentally. In regards to physically, remember that there are certain things to avoid in the hours leading up to your smear test.
Avoid having intercourse twenty four hours before your smear test as any lubricants, semen etc can impact the results of your test. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it reduces the chances of you having to return for a repeat smear due to inconclusive or abnormal results caused by environmental changes. It’s best to also avoid douching, using vaginal medications, using lubricants and using tampons. These things can also hinder the results.
If you’re feeling nervous why not try taking medication to help yourself relax? There are various things that have been proven to help such as Rescue Remedy, Kalms or even valerian.
As for preparing yourself mentally, there are a variety of things you can do such as practicing your breathing a few days before, then the night before and finally ten minutes before your examination. Leave enough time so that you’re not rushing to or from the appointment, reducing the need to stress about time constraints (I know this isn’t always possible, but it’s something we can often forget about). There are some great breathing techniques found on this post.
Finally, if you’re able to, it might be helpful to have someone you trust with you. Although this might not always be possible (due to COVID-19 etc), I personally would have felt so much better had I had my husband with me for my first smear test.
Don’t be embarrassed, they’ve seen it ALL before.
Worried about your nurse or doctor judging your genitals? Concerned they won’t be able to fit the speculum in? What if there’s a smell? These worries are all natural, though, even for the more seasoned smear-test-taker. And what’s more is the concern that comes after the exam. Because the results aren’t immediate, we often have to wait up to a week for our results to come through. In that time, it can be all too easy to lose sleep over the possibility of bad news. But here’s the thing that no one tells you; abnormal results are more common than you think! TIn fact it’s thought that 1 in 20 smear results come back abnormal, while only 1 in 2000 will actually result in a cervical cancer diagnosis.
So, in conclusion, the nurse has seen it all before and abnormal results don’t necessarily mean the big C.
I’m Chloe Quinn, a mental health and wellness blogger from Northern Ireland. Although I’m a trained health and safety officer I no longer practice, instead I spend the majority of my time freelancing or writing for my blog. I’ve been writing for years, but after relapsing into anorexia nervosa I decided to start a blog as a means of therapy.
Since March 2019 I’ve grown a significant following on social media and through my writing. I’ve had the pleasure of hosting sponsored content, as well as guest posting for many other websites and blogs. In just seven months the blog has grown from under one thousand views a month to over eleven thousand and counting.
My main motivation for doing this is to discuss eating disorders, anxiety and depression on a large scale. I want to be able to bring awareness and educate people, while also providing well written content.