Take a Deep Breath: Let's Get Real About Pap Smears

I had my first women’s health exam a couple weeks ago and I was very open about that. Talking about it with my friends and calling my mom helped me feel better, reducing my nervousness about it and making it less of a big deal. At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal, it’s just a check-up, just like when your doctor looks in your ears or checks your heartbeat with a stethoscope.

As I was talking to my friends, one of them very defiantly declared, “I am never, ever doing that. I don’t care.”

I found that extremely concerning. I asked her if she was worried about getting cervical cancer at all, and she said it was a risk she was willing to take.

It’s not comfortable to have a tongue depressor in your mouth, just like it’s not comfortable to have the metal tool between your labia, but here’s the thing: it’s over so, so quickly. The entire process lasts maybe ten seconds and then you’re done. Your doctor will check your breasts, listen to your heartbeat, look in your ears, all the normal stuff. You essentially just added two short things to the list of body parts they regularly check. It’s less than a minute tacked on to your routine checkup.

Not to mention, it’s a lot shorter and a lot less invasive than potentially having cervical cancer grow undetected in your body. There are many factors that can heighten your risk for cervical cancer, including having sex regularly, taking birth control for long periods of time, smoking, having low economic status, and even now eating enough produce. There are a wide variety of lifestyles for people who have vaginas to be at risk. The most at-risk group is people in their late teens to early 30s, which includes most of the people reading this article. Believe it or not, half of diagnosed cervical cancer cases occur in women who have never been screened before, so being proactive could save your life down the road. Having regular check-ups is a good idea, both to keep on the lookout and to get used to the checkup itself.

And after all is said and done, you only have to get a pap smear done once every three years. That’s right! What used to be an annual appointment is now spaced out even further! Ten seconds every three years for a life of healthiness.