24 Jun Fear of the Smear
Written by Francesca Fergus
Smear tests, also known as cervical screening tests, refer to the health check a nurse will conduct on a person with a cervix. The procedure involves the nurse inserting a speculum into the vaginal canal. The speculum is then opened up so the nurse can see your cervix clearly. A swab is taken from your cervix and the cells will be tested to see if there are any abnormalities. Results from this test tend to take up to 3 weeks to reach you.
A smear test is important for identifying your risk of developing cervical cancer. If your results come back as normal then you are clear and can return for your next check up in 3 years time. If your results come back as abnormal, the nurse may ask you to come in for further testing. Smear tests are only expected to be conducted on people ranging from ages 25-64.
Many people attend their cervical screening appointments but there are also some people who avoid the appointment altogether. A common reason as to why this is, is due to fear. There are different things people report being fearful of and we aim to provide information below to help ease their fears.
Many people assume smear tests are going to be painful or very uncomfortable. Some people are surprised when it isn’t painful at all but there are some people who do experience pain. For example, people with the condition Vaginismus, experience their pelvic floor muscles spasming involuntarily whenever they receive vaginal penetration, therefore they experience pain during a smear test. Other conditions such as Endometriosis or Vulvodynia can also make the test painful.
The good news is that there are ways to make the test more comfortable if you are worried about pain.
Focusing on your breathing can help you to relax. For example, taking a deep breathe in for 4 seconds, holding for 2 seconds and then breathing out for 4 seconds is one breathing technique that can relax your body and reminds your nervous system that you are safe.
Ask for a smaller speculum
Requesting a smaller size may feel better.
Ask to see the speculum first or even if you can insert it yourself
When we can see what’s being inserted or we have control over it, this can make us feel more relaxed.
If you’d like you could ask the nurse to distract you by asking you questions about your day. You could bring music to listen to or watch a tv show on your phone
Have a talk with your nurse first
Explain to them your fears and if you’d like them to take everything slow and gentle. They want to make the experience as comfortable for you as possible so they will listen.
Triggers traumatic memories
Some people have experienced sexual assault in the past which makes them worried that the smear test will trigger such memories. It’s important that the nurse is aware of this so they can tailor the procedure to suit your needs. You may want to try the tips suggested above. It may also be worth discussing the procedure and your fears with a therapist first. There are sex therapists who can support you in preparing for your smear tests.
Loss of virginity
Some people believe in the concept of virginity and that your virginity is lost once penetrated. They identify penetration as something which breaks your hymen (a thin layer of skin that sits across your vaginal opening). It may be comforting to know that the act of being penetrated does not have to define you or change who you are. There are some who argue that there is no such thing as virginity as some people are born without a hymen. Taking part in a test that could prevent you from developing cancer is something that is important for your health and can outweigh the label of whether you have received penetration or not.
Shame and embarrassment
Another common fear is the fear of the nurse judging your vaginal aroma or whether you have shaven your pubic hair or not. The nurse is not there to judge you and would have seen many different services across their work span. Therefore, your smell or the look of your vulva/vagina is not something they are there to scrutinise. Their aim is to conduct the test in the most comfortable manner possible.
We hope that this article has provided you with new information on the process of cervical screening and what you can do to make the experience less anxiety provoking. However if you do still feel worried and wish to speak to someone, please refer to this specialist website and feel free to contact their helpline on 0808 802 8000.