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Friday, March 2, 2018

What Smear Tests Are REALLY Like


Smear tests are one of those things that make a lot of women profusely sweat and perform extra kegels as they involuntarily clench their vaginas at the simple thought of them.

I have had a total of 13 smear tests in my lifetime. As your honorary twenty-something-year-old smear test expert (a totally-real title that is definitely not self-proclaimed), I thought it would be interesting & helpful for me to talk to you about what smear tests are really like.

I went for my first smear test when I was 15 years old. Since I was old enough to know about sex, my mum made the point of normalising the idea of smear tests and comparing them to dentist visits. She always instilled the thought that I should start having yearly smear tests from the moment I became sexually active. So naturally, as soon as I had sex for the first time, it felt very normal for me to add smear tests to my list of routine doctor check-ups.

It's important, at this point, to note that I was raised in Portugal and smear tests are a routine part of our free healthcare check-ups. There's no wait-until-you're-25 rule and you don't get invited to come in for a test like you do in the UK.

I felt a little awkward going in for a smear test for the first time. After all, someone was actually going to be up close and personal with my vagina for reasons unrelated to sex. It felt totally foreign to me.

"Does it hurt?"


This is one question my friends ask me all the time. In my experience, no. I mean, the speculum is cold and it feels a little weird to be penetrated by anything when you're not aroused... but it doesn't hurt. Your cervix has no nerve endings, so you aren't even going to feel the little cotton-bud-looking-thing touching it. The test itself is actually over in just a few minutes, and then you're done.

Now, I know it's still daunting. Here's a few tips to handle the stress of it all a bit better:


1. Wear clothes that you're going to get easily in and out of.


Unless you're going out afterwards, there's no need to dress up in 5 "instragrammable" layers. You're going to need to take your clothes off (from the waist down), so wear something that isn't too fiddly. The last thing you want is to be struggling with spray-on jeans for a whole 5 minutes before and after your smear test.

My personal favourite thing to wear is leggings, since they're the most comfortable option. It doesn't take much convincing to get me to wear leggings out of the house! If the weather is right, dresses are also super useful, since you can just pull them up. Dress up, knickers down. Easy-peasy!

2. "Tidy up"


Let's be real, we're all a little insecure about that one extra-long hair that grows on the lower third of our left labia majora. (Just me? Sure, ok.) The truth is that gynaecologists see dozens of vaginas every day, and it's not a big deal.

If shaving, trimming or having a quick wash before your appointment is going to make you feel more comfortable, then go for it! I also always carry some Femfresh wipes with me in case I want to freshen up last minute in the toilets. They're life-savers in my everyday life, but they come in especially handy if I've booked my cervical smear for 5:30pm after spending a whole day at the office!

3. Try to stick with one doctor.


Having someone look at your vagina is always going to feel a little invasive and awkward. I have had the same doctor for the last 7 years, and I think it makes a world of difference. Feeling comfortable is the most important thing when it comes to who you trust with your health, so make sure you find someone that you're happy with and then stick with them! Make sure you schedule your appointments ahead of time so that your schedules don't clash.


4. Don't feel pressured to stick to one doctor.


Forget what I said in point 3 if you don't feel comfortable with the first gynaecologist you try. Everyone is super different and feels at ease with different personalities, levels of casualty & medical speech. My current doctor is a super chill 60-something year-old man. Saying that is enough to make a lot of my friends shudder, but he is so straightforward and to-the-point that it makes getting my bits out a super casual and unimportant ordeal.

Switching doctors is a pretty simple process and it doesn't have to be awkward. You won't have to "break up" with your doctor and tell them the few (or many) reasons why you'd like to see someone different. Just ring up different sex clinics or ask your *GP for a different referral!

* A GP is a "general practitioner", and that is what we call our family doctors in the UK.

5. Don't freak yourself out.


This is much more easily said than done, and I know that, but you need to find it within yourself to not think of this as some big, scary procedure. No matter what I or anyone else might say, you are the only person capable of shifting your perspective. Thinking of it as the vagina-equivalent to a dentist really helped relax me, since you can be sure I am far more embarrassed about how much I slack with flossing.

If you'd like to read more about how attending regular cervical smear tests prevented the development of cervical cancer & changed the course of my life, you can follow on to read about My Experience With HPV.

I'd also like to take a minute to mention some great charities. Please take a look at Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and The Eve Appeal for more information regarding the very real threat that is cervical cancer. Attending your cervical smears is imperative, takes 5 minutes and could save your life the way it did mine.
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