The first time smear tests were ever on my radar were when I was 17 and working in a supermarket. I heard my boss tell another colleague she was late today because she’d been for a smear-and then she was mortified because she nearly said it over the tannoy. Clearly, smear tests were scary, secret, and very much not something you talked about. As I’ve grown up, and had friends of mixed ages, still no one talks about what happens when you go for a smear test. Well, that shouldn’t be the case, because they’re bloody important and, lets face it, things are only really scary when you have no idea what’s going to happen. I thought I’d write about what happens when you go for a smear test, so that if you’re putting it off, you can hopefully be reassured by knowing what to expect.
If you are 25 or over, you will have been written to by your doctor inviting you to come for a smear test. If you are younger than 25, you will get a letter when you hit 25 (in England, anyway. Wales, Scotland and Ireland may be different-if you know the age there please let me know, and I’ll edit this post!)
Have you had a smear test yet? If you have, well done. Well done for facing what is a fear, or at least an unusual situation, for most of us. You are very welcome to continue reading this post and please feel free to share your experiences below in the comments. This post is mainly aimed at ladies who have not yet had a smear, though.
*Added thanks to the lovely Sophie who pointed out a viewpoint I hadn’t considered* This post is in no way trying to shame you if you haven’t been for a smear test. If you’ve decided not to for any reason, if you have had an awful experience, a previous sexual assault or anything else that makes the very thought of a smear cause you a lot of upset, this doesn’t make you wrong. I am lucky, I have never walked in your shoes, and I am not going to pretend I know how you feel or that I can fix this for you. If you don’t want to go, or are not able to go, that’s your choice and that’s totally fine. I’m not aiming this at you, I’m aiming this at women who are literally not wanting to go simply because they are worried, because they have no clue what will happen there.
A lot of ladies worry about going for a smear test. They may think it will hurt, they may think it will be embarrassing, that it will be done by a male doctor or nurse and that that would be awkward. Some ladies may worry that the smear test will find something bad, and that they will have to have further treatment, be poorly, perhaps even die. I’ll be honest about that last sentence-your smear test MAY find something bad. You MAY have to have further treatment, be poorly, and potentially die. However-and this bit is important-if you have cervical cancer and are going to die, you are going to die anyway, even if you don’t KNOW two weeks after your smear test that you have it. Cancer does not decide not to affect you because you don’t know it’s there. Having a smear test could and can save your life, if there IS a problem (which, granted, is unlikely-please don’t worry about it but please do book your smear!)
I’m sorry if that was harsh. I’m sorry if I sound cold and unfeeling. I am neither of those things, I am just trying to make you realise (if you are an ‘I’ve never had a smear because I’m just a little worried about what happens there’ person) that you NEED to have a smear. I will say that, if you have had prior issues with a test, or you are genuinely petrified, I sympathise. I understand this won’t be easy for you. I understand that, actually, you and your doctor may have decided that you can’t have smear tests and that’s fine, you are not the person I am speaking to here. I’m trying to reach the people who are worried but have never tried to have the test, and the only thing stopping them is the fear of the unknown.
Ok, so you’ve never had a smear test. And you decide, on reading this post (or for any other reason!) that you are going to have one done. Well done, go you. You rock. What happens, then, when you’ve made your appointment?
You’ll go to the surgery, check in however your surgery does it. You can go in whatever clothes you like-some women find a long skirt easiest but I went for my last one in skinny jeans (granted I did forget I was going when I got dressed, though!) the nurse will call your name (it’s usually a nurse, at my surgery all of the nurses are female-if yours aren’t and you’d feel more comfortable with a woman, ask when making your appointment-they won’t refuse you) you will be asked to remove your clothing and underwear from your bottom half and lay on the bed. The nurse will take some lubricant gel and a speculum (a gadget that opens your vagina, sort of like a reverse vice-but nothing to be scared of, honest!) and a cotton swab-rather like a long cotton bud you’d use to clean your ears or to fix smudged eye makeup. She will insert the speculum to open you up, and gently scrape some cells from your cervix. She will then tell you you can get dressed. The whole thing is over in less than 3 minutes, usually.
In my experience, I don’t feel any discomfort during this process. It’s worth knowing, if you are going to book a smear test, that you cannot go when you are on your period-this may sound obvious, but my nurse told me that some ladies don’t realise that. It’s also worth knowing that if you are very nervous you can ask for a double appointment so that the nurse is able to take time to talk to you about the procedure. You can ask to have an escort present so that you are not alone with the nurse, if this bothers you. The nurse will have had both of these requests before and will not be in the slightest bit bothered or offended, she just wants you to be comfortable, as relaxed as possible, and have your smear test.
I did once go for a smear test and my period started as the nurse was talking the sample. That felt a little awkward, I won’t lie. The nurse laughed, said it’s happened loads of times, asked if I had sanitary protection with me or did I need a tampon or a towel from her (bless her!) and reassured me it was not at all a problem. I’m pretty sure that as soon as I left the room she forgot about it, so you really needn’t worry about something like that happening.
I hope that this post has helped a little. I hope that now you are thinking you may as well book your test and see how you go. Please, if you have any questions, remember you are more than welcome to ask me. I am not a medical expert, I am not qualified to give medical advice and I won’t-but I am a woman, I have had three smear tests, and I have felt THE FEAR. I am happy to try and answer questions for you that may help.
You can comment below with questions, or if you would rather be anonymous you can e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org you can also tweet me @Insdelaurashead with comments or questions about this post-I’d love to read them and am more than happy to edit if anyone thinks of something I didn’t cover, didn’t explain right or should remove.