It’s that time of year again. Just like a visit to the dentist, you’re unable to avoid it.
That’s right, it’s your annual trip to see your OBGYN! So much fun, I know. I used to not mind too much, back before I turned 21. However, ladies, turning 21 marks the age when you’re officially an adult—you can drink, act as a legal guardian, and now it’s highly recommended that you get a pap smear.
When I rolled up to my first post-21-year-old visit to the gyno, it was not even a regular visit. I had a consultation about a particular question regarding my birth control and they wanted me to visit the doctor in person. The nurse shuttled me into the little room, I shed my clothes, donned the paper contraption (that covers nothing, it’s so awkward), and sat on the examining table to wait for my doctor to show up. My eyes passed over all the familiar sights of that room: Black-and-white portraits of random babies, the poster for a birth control ad, and then what is that on the counter? My heart jumped to my throat as I glared at the napkin that held a little swab and a giant Q-tip. I was no dummy. I knew what that Q-tip was for and no one ever mentioned that this would be happening today.
Just then, the doctor barged in, shook my hand, chipper as always. My eyes were glued to the Q-tip the whole time he was talking. I couldn’t focus on anything else. Finally, he kindly told me to lean back and place my feet in the girdles. Girdles? What sort of torture chamber is this?!
Before I had time to think, he had slapped on his rubber gloves and was peering into my nether region. He had on the funky magnifying goggles on with a headlight attached, already making me feel like a specimen under a microscope. He then used this funky metal thing to crank open my labia (so weird, this is so weird!). Then, drum roll, he took the Q-tip and jammed it up the V hole. I was biting my lip so hard I swear I tasted blood.
Then, after a few uncomfortable seconds of swabbing and swirling, it was over. I’m not going to lie, it is in no way pleasant, but it’s over pretty quick. Bless his heart, he tried to bring the small talk but it’s a little difficult to articulate what your family did this summer when there is a massive Q-tip inside of you. Nevertheless, it was over after a few long seconds. I expect that it gets easier each time you go, so that’s what I look forward to.
Now, where does the cotton swab go next? Straight to the lab, where doctors test for many things, including cervical cancer. The swab has all sorts of information about what’s going on in your cervix—it can detect precancerous or cancerous cells, so it’s super important to get a pap smear at least once every three years (the recommendation). The HPV virus often causes cervical cancer, so the tests can tell if any cells changed due to the virus, thus seeing if any cells are cancerous or could become cancerous.
Basically, getting a pap smear, as miserable as the experience may be, is extremely important. The best piece of advice I can give is to not be afraid to ask questions. Ask your mom what it was like, ask your friends, even ask your doctor what to expect. I wish I had done that to make the process less jarring, but I was shy. Lesson learned—don’t be embarrassed! For more information about what to expect or tips on how to prepare, visit this site.