I had my first Pap Smear about two weeks ago. In reading that first sentence, some of you might be thinking “Ew gross! Why is she writing about this?” Well, it is because of that very reaction that I decided to grace you with these words about vaginas and speculums.
First of all, it really sucks that we can’t seem to talk about women’s health without shying away or feeling uncomfortable. Come on people, it is the age of the Feminist! Catch up! We have to embrace these conversations so that our daughters and granddaughters are not walking into an examination room at 21 years old with absolutely no idea what to expect of their first pap smear (or any other encounter that their forgoers were too embarrassed to discuss with them).
Speaking of clueless 21 year olds, days before the dreaded examination my mind was clouded with fear and anxiety about how I would 'look' to the doctor and how uncomfortable I would feel with someone touching my body in such a way. I surfed the Internet and interrogated Google with questions like “how to prepare for pap smear” and “what happens during a vaginal exam”. Pathetic? Agreed. I finally decided to do the very opposite of what I was taught; talk about it!
Before the examination, I lashed it out with one of my family members and picked her brain about the do's/don'ts and ins/outs (no pun intended). I also discussed the process very thoroughly with my doctor. So, for any girls out there who are quietly freaking out about their upcoming pap smear, here are a few tips that I have discovered through my experience.
- Take a shower right before your appointment. I promise it will make you feel like ten times more confident.
- Don’t worry about pubic hair! Trim or shave in any way that you feel comfortable. As someone so graciously explained it to me, “those Doctors have seen it all”.
- There are two parts of the exam: the breast exam and the vaginal exam. Remember that both of these procedures have very good intentions and that is to protect you from things such as cancer. So, if you can’t shake the uneasiness just know that it’s all in the name of your health.
- Don’t tense up during the vaginal exam. Yes, there is a lot of stuff going on down there including a doctor staring at you and a speculum invading your vagina, but it is in your best interest to stay calm. You will feel some pressure and pain, almost as if you were having the worst period cramps ever, but I promise it only lasts a few seconds.
- Play into the Doctor’s persistent attempts to make small talk with you about your weekend plans or summer road trips. It really does help.
- Lastly, ask questions and don’t be afraid to get into the details. If you get comfortable asking “uncomfortable” questions, then you can teach future generations of women that talking about these things is OK!
I hope that this has been helpful in subsiding some of your fears over the Pap Smear, in all of its glory. Good Luck!