Want to wax my lady-garden until you’ve erased all signs of puberty? Sure. But get all up in my cervix and take a look around? I’m a little apprehensive.
Yes, your girl is now a woman. I’d reached the ripe old age of twenty-four-and-three-quarters and I got a letter through the post to tell me it was time to book in for a smear test. I’ll be honest, I had reservations.
Will it hurt? Will they judge my lady parts? Do I shave? Do I leave a little hair there so I don’t seem like a try-hard who’s shaved just for a smear test? I was giving this more thought than I’d given any sexual encounter. The nurse was getting a level of preparation I don’t even treat my boyfriend to. I decided to get myself out of my comfort zone and grow a pair (of ovaries, testes would’ve been a hindrance in this particular exercise). If I had any potential issues down there, I definitely wanted to know about it.
What is a smear test?
‘Smear test’ is a common term used for cervical cancer screening. It’s a very quick examination that takes a little swab from inside the cervix to test for any changes to your cells. A smear test isn’t a test for cancer, it’s a preventative measure. It helps identify and treat any cells that could potentially pose a risk later on.
As it happens, one in four women don’t go to their smear test because of worries like mine. This is really concerning, because a screening could save your life in the future. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that 25-29-year-olds are particularly bad at booking in - a third of women in this category avoid the smear altogether!
My first smear test experience
My smear fear couldn’t have been any more unwarranted. The process was so quick and simple, and there was no reason to be embarrassed at all. The Sister who performed by exam was a true gem. So much so, I’m giving her the honorary title of Sister Woo. She had such a reassuring presence and was even happy to answer my questions for the Woo Girls Community. Plus, she examined my vagina as nonchalantly as I would send a work email or pick up my daily cappuccino. Vagina-mashmina. It was her job, and it was no big deal.
Sister Woo asked me how I was, and if I’d had swabs taken before. I had, and she told me that this would be a pretty similar experience. All I had to do was take off my jeans and knickers behind a screen, lie down on the bed with a sheet over my lady parts and let her know when I was ready for her to get started.
She showed me the tool that she’d be using to open the head of my cervix. It was nothing like the jaws-style pliers I had envisioned. It looked a little bit like a sectioning clip that they use at the hairdressers. (I’ll never feel the same about getting a balayage again).
The exam itself was not painful at all. I could feel something, but it just felt like an opening sensation. The swab was the same as any swab used for STI or thrush tests. Sister Woo ran the swab around the inside of my cervix, popped it in a tube and the whole thing was over in less than thirty seconds.
Sister Woo answers our smear test questions
Q: Why do you think women might avoid coming in for their smear test?
A: I think it might be the embarrassment factor. Some people are a bit shy about taking off their underwear. But, there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s just a natural part of a woman’s body, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. (I have to say, for all the thought I gave to my hair ritual, she didn’t even glance at the outside of my lady garden. The sheet sat right on top of that area.) I have noticed more younger women coming in for their first tests in the past six months, which is really great.
Q: Why do we have to wait until we’re 24 for a smear test?
A: The cervix doesn’t mature until you’re around this age. When younger girls were invited for smear tests, they used to find a lot of false readings because the cervix didn’t display the same results as it would if it were properly matured. This led to lots of worried young girls and didn’t actually detect potential risks.
Q: How often do women get called for smear tests?
You’ll get called for a test every three years between the ages of 24 to 49 and then every five years between the ages of 50 to 65. It’s important you keep attending your appointments because we need to test for changes to cells that might have developed since last time.
Q: What happens if you’re on your period?
A: You should try to arrange your smear test for when you’re not due on your period, because blood can make it difficult to get a proper sample. If there is a little blood in the sample, you might be asked to come in for a second examination. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean there’s anything to worry about. This is pretty common.
(Full disclosure: Don’t panic if you are on your period. I was just coming off mine and Sister Woo was super chilled about it.)
Q: How long before we get the results?
A: The results normally take between 2-6 weeks. Normally there’s no follow up. But, if you are asked to come back in, you shouldn’t worry. That just means we need to double check if there are any abnormal changes, and nip them in the bud.
A huge thank you to Sister Woo for putting me at ease. Ladies, I highly recommend you check when you’re due for your smear test and get it booked in. Protect those peaches.