A cervix-clenching one in three of us haven’t had a smear test, and whether that’s down to incredible laziness, fear, or not fancying having someone insert a speculum in your vagina, a lot of it boils down to the fact that none of us know what the fuck it is, what happens when you have one, and what a speculum does.* This is one reason Dr. Dawn Harper had a smear test live on This Morning yesterday as part of their #NoFearGoSmear campaign – to raise awareness, and show that it’s really no biggie. What is a biggie, though, is the fact that cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under 30.
I had my first one last year because a mate of mine found ‘shadows’ on hers (what they sometimes call abnormal cells) and I couldn’t sleep for fear that I had a haunted vagina, covered in shadowy spectres that were multiplying every day I didn’t book an appointment. Another mate told me that, essentially, her smear test was the worst thing she’d ever experienced because they couldn’t get the speculum up there and it shot out and knocked out the nurse or something. Either way, I was on the verge of tears by the time the nice woman had asked me to drop trou, and then after it was over, felt like calling everyone I knew to be like, ‘Cervical smears are fine! Why does nobody tell you this?!’ before going back in for another one. I barely felt anything. It was like inserting the world’s biggest tampon and then taking it out again.
*Answer: it's like a big plastic dildo with no centre, so the doctor can tickle your cervix without your vag getting in the way
Thing is, there’s a lot of confusion around the poor ole smear test. People don’t realise you get it every three years. People don’t realise that it’s not a horrific experience. People don’t realise that you can ask for a female nurse, or that it’s an incredibly important appointment to make because cervical cancer is way worse than two minutes wearing no pants in a doctor’s surgery.
Behold, all the hallowed smear test myths debunked in one simple, easy-to-follow article.
Smear tests are to see if you have cancer
One of the biggest myths out there. No, the point of a smear test is to find pre-cancerous cells that have changed. If they find them, that doesn’t mean you’ve got cancer, because some cells change back without treatment, so you’ll need to go for another smear test six months later and the chances are, it’ll be normal again. Or, in cervix-speak, ‘adequate’. That’s the worst thing about getting an ‘inadequate’ or ‘abnormal‘ result; your cervix’s self esteem will plummet so you might need to get it drunk and tell it you love it just the way it is or something. Just until this all blows over.
If the test comes back as abnormal, then you’ll have an actual diagnostic test to see if you have cervical cancer, which involves taking a tissue sample. But we don’t need to get into that, because this is all about smear tests – which are preventative rather than diagnostic (if you're into using fancy medical terms, like I am).
**You have to have one every year/six months/month/day from the age of 25 **
Nah, this only goes for some people – for the rest of us it’s every three years. Basically, you'll get a letter when it’s time for your first test, which is 25 years old for most women or younger for a few, depending on your medical history. When you get the letter, you go there at the next available opportunity – sort of like Hogwarts but it’s not necessarily in September and instead of getting taught magic, you get your vagina out.
They scrape your cervix with a trowel
Alright, so that’s not necessarily a commonly held belief, but there’s no scraping involved. The nurse is collecting cells, not grouting tiles, which doesn’t require the same amount of pressure (thank the lord). During a test, the nurse puts the speculum up you and, unless you’re really tense, it just feels like a very large, cold penis. I was really tense, almost to the point of tears, due to horror stories told to me by friends, but once I’d consciously relaxed the old girl (my vagina), it wasn’t that bad at all. Then the nurse will, erm, open the aforementioned speculum, which sort of feels like your lower body has become a wind tunnel. But in a totally fine way. While you’re wind-tunnelling away like a champ, she sweeps (not scrapes, but sweeps) your cervix in such a way that you can’t feel anything, and closes the speculum. Which promptly sprouts wings and soars out of the nearest window while still inside you, etc.
**The speculum won’t fit up there. I fear I have a diminutive vagina
Firstly, stop vagina-shaming yourself – it’s beautiful just the way it is. Secondly, if an entire baby can come out of you, a relatively small plastic dildo type thing can go in. It’s not like the speculum has arms, legs or a head, for god’s sake. The only way a speculum isn’t going to fit, is because you’re so tense that your vaginal muscles are kegel-ing big time, but this can be remedied by consciously relaxing all the muscles down there and trusting that it isn’t going to hurt. Because it won’t. And this is coming from someone who fainted when she put a tampon in for the first time.
I haven’t had sex for ages, so I don’t even need a smear test or anything.
Wrong. If you’ve never had sex in your whole life then your risk of cervical cancer is really low, but there’s still a risk, so you’ll still need to get a smear test. And if you have had sex, you also need to get a smear test. Just as penises don’t give you cervical cancer, they’re also not cancer-fighting staffs of glory or anything.
**I’d know if I had cervical cancer, because I’d have symptoms. So I don’t need my test done. **
Again, you’re wrong (as you can see, a pattern is solidly emerging within this article) because the symptoms for cervical cancer are difficult to spot. More obvious, er, visual things like bleeding after sex, are often put down to your period going haywire, especially if you’re on the pill or you've got the coil – and pain during sex (another symptom) isn’t always as obvious as it sounds. You can also have next to no symptoms. So go get smeared, m’lady.
So, hey, one in three of you. What are you waiting for? Get booking that appointment and let me know if my wind tunnel analogy was accurate, because it’s been disputed by a fair few people and I’m starting to get self conscious about my similes.
Follow Stevie on Twitter @5tevieM.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.