Having a smear test

A young person is standing by a wall looking at their phone, researching cervical smear tests

The smear test detects precancerous changes in a woman’s cervix. But does a smear test hurt? Aren’t they embarrassing? And how do you know when to have a smear test? Don’t worry, they’re not as scary as they sound. Read on to learn all you need to know.

What is a smear test?

A smear test can pick up abnormal changes in your cervix – which is the entrance to your vagina. Detecting and removing abnormal cells early can stop them becoming cancerous.

Do I need a smear test?

All women aged 25 and older should have regular smear tests. Yes, it’s a bit cringe showing your vag to a doctor, but it’s worth it, we promise. They can detect cancer and stop it developing… that’s probably worth the ‘what-underwear-should-I-wear?’ embarrassment.

What if I’m a virgin?

Changes in your cervix cells are usually down to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which you catch through having sex. So, if you’re a virgin, you’re much less likely to have abnormal cells caused by a HPV infection. That said, ideally you should still have one.

What if I’ve not had sex in ages?

Even if you’ve gone through the world’s longest dry spell, if you’ve ever had sex, you should definitely go for your smear test.

What if I’ve had the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine programme started in 2008 and it protects against the two types of HPV that cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. That said, you should still go for smears to keep an eye on your cervix. The vaccine alone is not enough of a safety net.

Your first smear test

First things first, it doesn’t matter what knickers you’re wearing, whether you’ve got a neat and tidy Brazilian, 70s bush or vajazzle. No one’s going to judge you or your vagina. And the nurse or doctor really has seen it all before. They’re almost bored of your vagina!

Wear a skirt when you’re having your cervical screening test if you want to avoid undressing from the waist. Then you can take your knickers off but leave your skirt on, giving you as much modesty as possible. Once you’ve removed your underwear, you lie on your back with your knees apart and your heels up towards your bottom.

The nurse then inserts a sterile instrument called a speculum into your vagina to make the cervix easier to see. They then use a tiny spatula or brush to gently scrape some cervical cells from your cervix.

Remember, nurses do this every day. To them it’s routine, but for you it’s new and it’s ok to tell them you find it a bit scary. “It’s important to let the nurse know it’s your first time. You will tighten up if you’re tense,” says Lynn from fpa. “There’s no shame in saying it’s my first one and I’m nervous. Hopefully they’ll put you at ease.”

A quick pelvic examination is sometimes carried out afterwards, with the nurse using a gloved hand to check the vagina, womb, and ovaries. You may also be offered a blood pressure test and breast examination.

Some women find they experience bleeding after a smear test, so it’s a good idea to have a small sanitary towel or panty liner in your bag, just in case.

Does a smear test hurt?

When someone puts something new up your fanny it’s going to feel a bit invasive, but it should be painless. “It shouldn’t hurt, but it will feel uncomfortable – especially if you’re nervous and tense, which you’re bound to be on your first time,” says Lynn.

It helps if you’re armed with as much information as possible; so don’t be afraid to ask the nurse any questions.

When to have a smear test

You cannot be screened during your period. The best time to have the test is roughly two weeks after the first day of your period. 

As mentioned earlier, any woman over 25 should have a smear test. 

Why aren’t women under 25 offered a smear test?

In the light of medical evidence published in 2003, women under 25 are not offered a screening appointment because abnormalities in their cervixes are rarely linked to cervical cancer. Changes in the young cervix are normal and unnecessary treatment could have consequences for a woman’s fertility.

Next Steps

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 02-Sep-2022