Getting your first smear test can be daunting.
We get it. The thought of any invasive action by a medical professional in your nether regions isn’t exactly appealing.
But when that fear and uncertainty is putting women off getting the test altogether, something has really got to be done.
A study last year found that half of women have delayed or cancelled their smear test – a lot of that was due to embarrassment or fear.
We need to break the taboo. If women felt able to talk openly about getting a smear test, a lot of the anxiety and fear of the unknown would be removed.
More than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, and nearly 900 die annually.
All women aged 25 to 49 are invited for a screening test every 3 years, while those aged 50 to 64 are invited every 5 years.
But 1 in 4 women skip the cervical screening, with the proportion increasing to 1 in 3 among those aged 25 to 29.
‘Smear tests provide the best protection against cervical cancer, yet worryingly attendance is in decline with more than one in four women not taking up their invitation,’ explains Rebecca Shoosmith, from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
‘We know they aren’t always easy, so it’s really important to find out what it’s all about and ask any questions you have before or after the test.’
We asked women to share their real, honest experiences of getting a smear test.
Openness is the first step in removing stigma.
I was quite nervous for my first smear, but the nurse who did it was so nice.
She talked through everything that was happening.
The speculum was pretty cold, and I really tensed up out of nerves – but when the nurse told me to relax and breathe, it went in just fine.
Then the nurse opens up the speculum, which doesn’t really feel like anything.
Then there’s a swab – which was a weird sensation, rather than painful.
Then everything was out of me and it was over.
The only slightly painful part was when I was too tense at the beginning, so really try to breathe and relax your muscles.
I also wasted time worrying about the fact that I hadn’t shaved or anything – but the nurses literally do not care.
As long as they can find your vagina, that’s all that matters. Rebecca, 28 Smear tests feel weird and invasive, but not especially painful.
It’s not a sensation I’ve felt before, but if you run your fingernail along the roof of your mouth it’s like that, only internal.
Afterwards I had a very, very mild cramp like a light period pain. The actual experience was no where near as stressful as the lead up to it.
I was so shocked that literally none of my friends had told me that they had had one, or what it felt like.
My mum had said that it was scratchy, but that’s basically all I knew. There was anxiety about what fanny admin was needed first.
And I just found it so funny that this woman was literally having a chat like I was at the hairdressers; what did I have planned for the rest of the day, did I have any holidays booked – and I honestly didn’t notice that she had done it.
There was maybe just a tiny scratchy feeling. But really nothing to get myself worked up about.
It’s baffling that we aren’t taught about smear tests at school.
But sadly it’s just another example of how women aren’t taught about what to expect when it comes to periods, sex or the development of their bodies.
At my first smear I realised that it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing – I was basically too small for the instruments.
For smaller ladies there is usually a smaller thing they stick inside you – not sure what it’s called.
But they always try with the big one first and that’s not good.
So if you know you might struggle with that size then ask for something smaller – that’s the main lesson I learnt.
Also, the more tense you are, the more it might hurt – so try and think of something that will help you to relax.
It just feels like a bit of a crampy period pain for a few seconds.
The silly thing is that the more relaxed you are, the easier the speculum goes in, so having a lovely nurse who chats to you and makes you feel at ease is a big help.
I would say it feels a bit like someone swiping a cotton bud firmly across you. So it’s slightly uncomfortable, but not painful – more like a pressure thing.
It’s also very quick! I think the speculum going in is probably the worst bit because it’s just a bit chilly, and nobody wants a cold vagina.