healthy bytes: the dreaded pap smear
I decided to write this article after hearing a relatively unsurprising piece of data from a friend of mine. She’d recently asked around in her study group and found that six of the eight young women were yet to have their first pap smear. Reasons given included, ‘I always use condoms’, ‘I’m really sensitive’ and ‘my doctor’s an old guy’.
If you fit into the six out of eight young women category, here’s the deal with pap smears.
- All women over the age of 18 need to have pap smears.
- This includes virgins, lesbians and women who use condoms.
A pap smear tests for the early warning signs of the human papilloma virus and cervical cancer, by taking a sample of cells from your cervix and looking for any abnormalities. Contrary to popular myth, it doesn’t test for STDs – it detects signs of cancer. Which I bet would be more gross and painful than a pap smear procedure.
So, with that in mind, here are some tips I gathered from my own pap smear experience, and ‘women’s issues’ doctor experiences in general:
- It’s normal to feel shy about the pap smear procedure. The doctor (or nurse) will expect this if it’s your very first pap smear, and they’ll explain to you what they’re going to do so you know what’s going on. To make yourself more comfortable, I’d suggest wash just before you go, and wear underwear and clothes that are easy to remove.
- Remember that this is the doctor’s job to perform pap smears. They will have seen a whole lot of vaginas before so they will not be fussed about seeing yours.And believe me, they won’t care about what underwear you have on or your grooming habits either.
- The ‘I’m really sensitive’ excuse: Some women complain that pap smears hurt. From personal experience, they shouldn’t ‘hurt’ – it’s more of a slight tickle. I think the more relaxed you are, the less you’ll feel. My doctor used lubricant and a tiny spatula. (They have two sizes and the larger one is used for women who have had kids.) The whole procedure was over in less than thirty seconds.
- The ‘my doctor’s an old guy’ excuse: As I said, all doctors have seen vaginas before, regardless of their own gender. If you’re really worried about having a male doctor perform the procedure, ask at your local clinic for a female doctor or nurse. Otherwise, contact a women’s health centre or sexual health clinic, but make sure you check their bulkbilling options when you book in at a new centre. Being a young woman, now is a good time anyway to find a gynaecologist (male or female) you can visit for regular check-ups.
If you’re over 18 and haven’t had a pap smear yet, it’s time to get organised. Check out the government’s site for more information, or else post your questions below!