Pap smear: What, why, when, who, how?

Sounds a bit like a pep talk, except it's with my vagina.

Oh yes, of course I've gone for pap smears. The thought of it isn't pleasant at all. Although it's actually painless, I find it uncomfortable. I don't think any woman ever gets "used to" having a pap smear done.

What is the purpose of a pap smear?
To check whether there are cellular abnormalities in the cervical cells. The abnormalities may lead to cervical cancer. The objective is to identify them early when they're more easily treated. Pap smear results may come back falsely positive or falsely negative. It's not foolproof but it's still better than nothing at all.

What happens during the procedure?
This is my experience.

Firstly, I got to remove my panties. Then I lie flat on my back on an examination bed. I rest my heels on the edge of the bed or in some clinics there are metal foot rests that stick out from each side of the bed. My legs are open rather wide at a 90 degree angle.

The doctor then asks me to relax as he/she inserts a speculum - a metal instrument that's used to keep the vagina open. If I'm tense and clench my vaginal muscles, there's no way the speculum can be inserted. Obviously, it's hard to relax when someone's inserting a piece of metal into my vagina! Usually the doctor and/or the assistant will try to make some small talk to get my mind off what's actually happening. I got to try very hard to think of something more pleasant like a vacation or some nice food, but not ice-cream because the metal scoop reminds me of the speculum.

The next part, I can't feel what the doctor is doing because there aren't many nerves on the cervix. He/she might explain what she's doing or simply not talk about it to get your mind off it. The doctor collects samples of cells from the cervix and the area surrounding the cervix.

It's not over yet. The doctor performs a pelvic examination by inserting two fingers of one hand inside the vaginal canal while feeling the ovaries and uterus with the other hand on top of the abdomen. This is not painful but the thought of it being done is uncomfortable. The pelvic examination is not part of the pap smear but it's usually done at the same time.

After the pelvic examination is completed, the doctor removes the speculum. I'm then given some tissue paper or hand towel to wipe myself before getting dressed.

The samples are sent to a laboratory. The test results would come back within 1 to 3 weeks.

When should women go for pap smears?
The earlier of:
- reaching 21 years of age
- within 3 years of the first sexual intercourse

How often should it be repeated?
Follow the doctor's advice. It depends on age and the results of the previous pap smears. The minimum is once every 3 years.

Does a woman still need to go for pap smears if she has stopped all sexual activities?
Only women who have undergone a total hysterectomy for benign disease or older women (above 65 years old) who had normal pap smear results for a period of time as determined and advised by the doctor do not need to go for pap smears.
Postmenopausal women should continue going for pap smears.

I think it's a good idea to shave out of respect for the doctor. You also don't want to make him/her go through your black forest to find the cherry.
Do not douche because it may affect the accuracy of the results.

I got to go for a pap smear again this month. I’ll be talking to you again real soon, my vagina.


Simon said...

Hello Yu-Kym,
Thanx for this educational piece. However u forgot to mention when is the best timing to do pap smear. I've heard from friends that its best done after the 15th-20th day of your period. Is it correct ?

Yu-Kym said...

Hi Simon, I didn't forget but I left it out because I would have to explain the menstruation cycle. Not all women have a 28-day cycle. For women with 28-day cycle, it's 10-20 days after the onset of menses.

Kimie said...

Hi Yu-Kym,

Thanks for the educational info 'bout the process of doing pap smear... precaution way better eii...

Anonymous said...

Thanx for a very informative account. I appreciate wat u said abt hygiene and respect. It is very important.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Yu Kym. Am so glad I found this site. I am in Australia and have been offered a great job in chemist and cosmetics industry. I have to go for a full medical exam before employment and am a virgin so feel nervous. A pap smear is provided and ultrasound/colposcopy as part of a national screening program. I understand that my hymen has nothing to do with actual virginity so are try not to be worried on that. But I am concerned about the exam if I get aroused and will feel shame. What part of the pelvic exam is most sensitive for that? I saw what you said about shaving but will the doctor think it strange? He is a older man and seems conservative from what I learn. Thanks for helping me with this.

Yu-Kym said...

I don't know what's the norm there - to shave or not to shave. I shave because I don't want hair to get in the way. He won't (and shouldn't) be touching your clitoris so it's unlikely that you would get aroused. The speculum, the metal device, which he inserts into the vagina will not cause arousal. I highly doubt you will get aroused during a pap smear! Women usually get nervous instead of aroused. Try to relax and think of something else.

Anonymous said...

Yu Kym Thank you for your advice. I have read up on it and it is confusing. I read that he does a external exam first and clitoris is part of that but also the exam with fingers can that be sensitive? Also should I be worried about loss of hymen? Many say it is not important in relation to keeping good health. I will follow your advice about hair getting in the way and remove it if it makes exam more difficult. How else should I prepare for the exam?

Yu-Kym said...

Actually the doctor doesn't touch the clitoris. I think he just looks at the external area to to check for any infection.

If yours is normal and stretchable, there shouldn't be a problem. But do talk to the doctor about it. There are different hymen shapes and it is possible that it can tear during the pap smear.

i can't think of anything else to prepare. That's it!

Anonymous said...

i went along with my ex for her health exam and the doctor said that if she is still a vrgin then she doesn't need to do a pap smear.
so ladies, pls check wth your doctors before doing one.

Yu-Kym said...

Anon, is your gf over 21?