During a recent conversation, a new friend (hey boo hey) informed me that she had never had a Pap Smear before. It had never occurred to me until that very moment that many boss baes’ killin’ it in every aspect of their lives may actually put off this test…like indefinitely. Look I get it. I’ve been on the other side of the table a time or two. Exposing your neither region in bad lighting to someone you barely know is not fun. But to keep it 100, pap smears are necessary to ensure your fun box stays healthy, plus it’s quick, easy, and relatively painless. Fortunately, I’m here to help ease your pap anxiety. Here are a few things you should expect during your first exam.
I Need a Doctor
First things first. Find yourself a good doctor. Whether it be a gynecologist, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner, you’ll need to find someone who specializes in women’s health. Get referrals from your squad, family, or other women you trust. Like Nike- Just Do it. Don’t be afraid to call the office to schedule time to sit down and talk with your potential provider. After all, this is an intimate relationship.
What’s the Deal with Pap Smears Anyway?
So let’s talk about what a pap smear actually is. During the exam, your provider will collect and test cells from your cervix, uterus, and vagina looking for any changes that could lead to cancer. BTW try to schedule your appointment outside of shark week. Although the test still can be performed, it may be harder to get clear results.
Despite what your mom, grandma, or auntie (heyyyy auntie) may tell you, you do not need to get a pap at 18 years old or only if you’re sexually active. The rules have actually changed. Family Nurse Practitioner and young women’s health expert Sheena Palmer recommends that you “schedule your first pap smear starting at age 21 regardless of sexual activity.” And there is a good reason for that. Research has found that any abnormalities in women under the age of 21 eventually went away on their own.
So Really, How Often do I Have to do This?
So here’s the thing, if you’re 21 to 29 years-old, and your pap results are normal, chances are you can wait 3 years until your next test (Yaaasss!) If you’re like me and fall into the 30 to 65 age range, it’s most likely it will be another 3 years before your next test if your results are normal.
BTW ladies who are 30 and over, your doc may also screen you for HPV (human papillomavirus). These viruses can cause health problems like genital warts and cancers. This test is either ordered by itself or it can also be done alongside your pap. Normal HPV test results might mean another 5 years before your next screening.
Quick recap- if you are under the age of 21; no pap. If you are between the ages of 21 and 29, pap every 3 years; If you are 30 to 65 years old, a Pap test every 3 years and an HPV test every 5 years. Got it?
So How Exactly do I Prepare For a Pap?
Trust me when I tell you that your doc doesn’t’ care if your bra and panties match, or if you’ve trimmed or, waxed your vajayjay but nurse practitioner Sheena Palmer does recommend that you hold off on the Netflix and Chill for at least two days before your appointment. As a matter of fact, she recommends not putting anything inside of your vagina two days before your appointment- that means, no tampons, spermicides, no douches, NOTHING. “These things can throw your results off and make them inaccurate-masking any abnormal cells that you may have,” Palmer warns.
OK-So Do I Get Naked Now?
Let’s get this out of the way. A Pap smear can be a little uncomfortable but the procedure is relatively quick. After grabbing your height and weight a nurse or medical assistant will escort you into your exam room where they will ask you questions about your health. Honestly, some of these questions may seem a little personal but this info is needed to provide you with the best possible care, so answer truthfully.
You’ll then be asked to get undressed from the waist down, and handed a small sheet to cover your girly parts. You’ll lay back on a small exam table and prop your feet up into stirrups.
Can I share a little secret with you? The more you can get your vaginal muscles to relax, the easier speculum (the duck-billed shaped instrument that they are putting inside your body) will slide in and the faster the test will be over. Remember to take long, deep, slow breaths.
Before starting the exam, your provider will do everything to make you feel comfortable. Most doctors will talk you through the procedure so you know exactly what to expect before, during, and after the test.
So Tell me About The Speculum
Your provider will gently slide a lubed-up speculum into your vagina and swab your cervix with a small mascara-sized brush to get a sample of your cells. She will then place the brush into a small tube to send off to the lab for processing. After collecting your cell sample, the speculum will be removed from your vagina. Your doc will then give you instructions about how to clean yourself up, which usually involves handing you a box of tissues so you can wipe any leftover lube from your lady parts before sliding your panties back on.
After the test, it’s not uncommon to feel some light cramping or discomfort. You could even experience some very light vaginal bleeding. If your bleeding persists, tell your doctor.
That it! Congratulations you’ve made it through your first pap.
Pap Done, What’s Next?
There are two expected pap results-normal or abnormal. If your test results are normal you may not hear from your provider but if you are at all concerned, it’s totally ok to give them a call.
If your results are abnormal your doctor may recommend repeating your pap in 6 to 12 months or she may recommend a colposcopy where they get a closer look at your cervical tissue or take a small sample.
Truthfully, pap smears can be intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. Learning about the procedure can ease your anxiety and calm your fears to help you walk into your appointment with glo’d up AF. So go make that appointment boo.
Do you remember your first pap experience? Share the deets with us.