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I Just Had My First Pap Smear & It Was Totally Fine

Up until a month ago, hearing “pap smear” triggered some anxiety in me. We all hear about it eventually, but from my experience many of us don’t fully understand what it entails or why we even need one. It’s one of the most normal procedures women go through every few years, yet we hardly discuss it among ourselves. I was never educated about it during school, or even at the doctor’s office, so I had to do my own research once I realized I’d have to get my first one soon. That was the only way I was going to feel somewhat prepared for my appointment and get rid of some of the anxiety I was feeling. Today, I want to tell you exactly what my experience was like (without getting too TMI) so that I can hopefully ease any anxiety or concern you may have regarding pap smears. 

Let me preface this by saying: it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. 

When I did my own research, I stumbled upon this YouTube video by one of my favorite long-time YouTubers, Zoella. She filmed a 45-minute live video of her pap smear appointment, along with questions she asked the nurse and a discussion. I was surprised that she felt comfortable enough to film such a private experience. However, after watching the video I felt much more reassured. I hadn’t seen anyone else make such an in-depth video about what you should expect, other women’s experiences, and the actual procedure itself. It was helpful to see it being done, and to hear her experience afterwards. I highly recommend giving it a watch if you haven’t had your pap smear yet and need to know/see exactly what it entails!

Besides that, I did some extra scouring around the internet but didn’t find anything as helpful as that video. This is where I come in to tell you about what exactly it is, why you need one, and my own experience!

Why do I need one?

First of all, if you’re wondering whether you really need one, the answer is yes. Pap smears are crucial in checking for signs of cervical cancer. By getting a pap smear every few years, you are helping to prevent any pre-cancerous cells from becoming cancerous later on. Hence why it’s so important to get one!

Pap smears are done primarily to determine whether or not you have any cervical cells that are abnormal. More often than not, the results come back normal and there isn’t anything to worry about, but in case they come back abnormal, your doctor will ask you to come back to prevent those abnormal cells from becoming a serious risk. 

How often do I need one?

According to Healthline, women aged 21 to 29 need a pap smear every three years as long as their results continue to come back normal. For those with abnormal results, your doctor will ask you to come back every year in order to eliminate potential cancerous cells. I waited until I was 22 to get mine, only because I wasn’t really urged to get one until I asked about it. I would talk to your doctor about it as soon as you turn 21, and they’ll most likely encourage you to get one as soon as possible! 

Tip: you should try to make an appointment for when you’re not on your period since this could make the procedure more uncomfortable and affect the accuracy of the results. Another tip is to ask for a female doctor if that would be more comfortable for you. I personally felt much more comfortable with the idea of a woman down there rather than a man, so don’t be afraid to ask!

How does it work?

The procedure itself truly took less than a minute. It was over before I knew it! You’ll get undressed and put on a gown, then lay down on the examination table, and your doctor will ask you to scoot forward so they can easily access the area. You’ll place your feet in stirrups with your knees bent, which feels a little funny, but this helps relax you and ease discomfort. 

Feel free to ask your doctor literally any question you may have during the process. Mine made sure to reassure me at every step so I knew exactly what was going on. She told me she’d be inserting a weird instrument called a speculum into my vagina, which creates easier access to your cervix. She also made sure to warn me that it may be uncomfortable, since it’ll be creating a lot of unusual pressure down there. She then said she’d be taking a swab of my cervix, since that is where those cells they need to test live. 

a laboratory worker takes a swab test
Photo by Mufid Majnun from Unsplash

My overall experience

The insertion of the speculum was the worst part because it’s stretching you in that area more than you’re probably used to. The swab part, however, I didn’t even notice. The swab is pretty long so it can reach all the way to your cervix. My doctor was asking me about where I go to school, and I didn’t even realize she’d swabbed already before saying, “OK, all done.” I was really surprised; I thought I would definitely feel something weird and foreign but I didn’t! This could be different for everyone, but I was expecting a lot more discomfort. 

Something to be aware of is that you could experience a bit of dizziness right after, so my doctor told me to stay lying down for a couple minutes. This is because when she swabbed the cervix, it touches a specific nerve that can affect balance. Weird, right? So I would suggest taking it easy afterwards and not standing up until you feel ready. 

Overall, the experience was easy and painless. It took all of 10 minutes from when my doctor came in to when she was finished with the procedure. I got my results back in a week and was relieved to see that I had nothing abnormal going on. This is one of the benefits of getting a pap smear: you can have the physical reassurance that you’re healthy and there’s no cause for concern. So, if you’re still feeling anxious about getting your first one, that’s totally normal. Everyone’s experience is a little different, however it’s probably not as bad as what you’ve conjured up in your mind. I suggest watching the YouTube video mentioned before to help ease concern and get your questions answered, and my biggest tip would be to make sure to relax your body as much as possible when you’re getting the procedure done! 

Now, I’m sure some of you are wondering: What if I’ve never had anything up there before? This is an incredibly valid question. If you haven’t had sex or haven’t used a tampon or anything else you can insert into your vagina, there’s a possibility of more discomfort during your pap smear. I would let your doctor know about this, and I’m sure they’d be able to accommodate to your level of comfort. Doctors are there to help you and have pretty much seen and heard it all, so don’t be afraid to be honest with them. 

Don’t wait any longer — schedule your first appointment as soon as you’re 21! You’ll be relieved to get the first one over with, and then you won’t need another for three years. Not so bad, right? I hope hearing about my personal experience helped alleviate any anxiety you might’ve been feeling. 

Lorraine is a small business owner and graduate from UCSB with a major in Sociology. She loves photography, earring-making, writing, editing and music and is passionate about cruelty free skincare and makeup as well as becoming a successful business woman. You can usually find her binging comfort shows on Netflix for the 3,000th time, creating Spotify playlists for every mood, and dreaming about Harry Styles.