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What’s it really like getting a smear test?

July 7, 2019

Smear test. What a bloody awful name.

The name in itself is enough to put anyone off. Most of us gals know when we’re young that at some point in our adult life we’re going to have to have one of these smear test things. To be honest I never really knew a huge deal about the test, I’d heard that it’s unpleasant and that it can detect cancerous cells but that’s about the extent of it.

Recently I’ve heard in the news that the number of women going for smear tests is lower than ever, potentially down 71% in the UK. Coincidentally, a few months ago I received a letter letting me know it was time for me to get my first test booked in…yes, it happened, I hit 25.

It’s not for me to speculate about the reasons people aren’t going for their smear tests, but as I’ve now had my first test I thought it might help to spread a bit of reality on the situation, what’s it really like?

I sometimes hear horror stories about these tests, excruciating pain, embarrassment, etc, but most of the time people describe the test as uncomfortable and that’s absolutely the way to see it.

Unless you’re some kind of superwoman with 110% body confidence and a passion for taking your pants off for strangers (I kinda hope not), then there’s a high chance you’re not going to enjoy the experience. But that’s ok.

You don’t have to love it, it’s just something you have to go through.

So what actually happens?

I made the appointment at the GP, and booked it in on an early morning before work. I arrived at the doctors surgery and a friendly nurse called me into her room.

We had a brief chat and she asked whether this was my first smear test. She then talked me calmly through the process, step by step, making sure each part was clearly stated.

She did tell me it might feel uncomfortable, but I was already prepared for that.

She pulled the curtain around and asked me to take everything on my bottom half off and lie on the bed, my hips right at the end and my knees raised. I won’t lie, the thought of being in this position so exposed made me feel really weird.

My top tip for this is just think about how many other people have been in that position, how many times the nurse has done one of these and seen countless women in that position. It probably won’t make you want to jump at the chance of getting into it but it at least might give some comfort.

I lay on the bed, legs up with some of that large blue paper towel across my middle.

The nurse came in and after just a couple of seconds of seeing how completely normal she found the situation I felt more at ease.

The nurse was great, before she did anything she told me what she was going to do, so I was never in shock.

Just to pre-warn you the next steps are a little bit graphic.

First of all she put in the speculum, and this was uncomfortable. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of experiencing a speculum it’s a long plastic instrument which is used to keep everything open whilst they’re taking the swab. It sits from the opening up to your cervix. Having this inserted I felt was the worst part. It’s not massively painful, just really weird and unusual.

Top tip for this part is try your best to stay relaxed. It’s only more difficult if you tense up. Think about something good, like your next snack.

Once the speculum was in place, the nurse took the swab. This is a really strange feeling. Again, it’s not massively painful but it certainly doesn’t feel nice. It’s like a bit of a scratching I suppose, but it literally lasts for a couple of seconds. It’s kind of weird because you feel the sensation like it’s low in your tummy, which I suppose it is.

She twisted the swabber around a bit and then removed everything. RELIEF.

She then pulled the curtain back around and I got dressed.

And just like that it was over! I did get some small period pain type cramps afterwards, but nothing much and it didn’t hurt at all once it was over.

It probably took about ten minutes overall from the time I entered the room to when I left.

Luckily the nurse was really lovely, knowing it was my first test she did a lot to make me feel at ease. Just small things like letting me know the door was locked, telling me I was doing great (always nice), and explaining each step clearly. A few weeks later I got a letter letting me know everything was normal, hooray!

The majority of the time the people doing these tests know they’re not pleasant, and they will do their best to make it as easy as possible.

If you’re feeling nervous about getting your test done I completely understand, but just remember that everyone goes through it so you’re not alone.

Smear test graphic

If you have any questions about the experience please do let me know, and if you’re sat at home with a letter on your kitchen table – book it in now!

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6 responses to “What’s it really like getting a smear test?”

  1. Thinking about snacks helps with every uncomfortable situation! Your post is so right though; it sounds embarrassing & painful & a bit like the end of the world but, really, it’s just a few minutes of mild discomfort. My top tip is also to wear a dress on the day of a smear as it helps you feel a bit less exposed.

    • estherruthwyse says:

      I completely agree! It’s not a long process at all is it luckily. I’d actually never thought about how something as simple as wearing a dress could help. Great tip! Thanks 🙂

  2. Kayla says:

    Such a great post Esther! The more women talk about this the better 🙂 The nurse struggled to find my cervix during my second smear test so I had to get into a few different positions before she eventually found it. Sounds so simple but just deep breathing + thinking of something lovely really helped whilst she was having a rummage around + again, just uncomfortable NOT painful xx

    • estherruthwyse says:

      I completely agree! I remember seeing you post about yours on your blog so I’ve just gone back and re-read it, such a good, light hearted but informal post. Well done for sharing your experience, I’ve not heard of that before so it’s great to share it, I’ve suddenly realised how little people talk about it! It’s time we all god chatting. Lots of love girl xxxxx

  3. Em says:

    Your post is so right! I was so scared of getting mine that I put it off for about 6 months. When I eventually managed to pluck up the courage to go it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d made it out to be in my head. Sure, not exactly a fun experience, but really not terrible at all.

    I love that you’ve shared some real talk about what is a very important issue!

    Em x

    • estherruthwyse says:

      I was exactly the same! I had the letter sitting on my table for FAR too long. I think the more we all chat about it the better so I’m glad to be able to share this post. That’s exactly it, it’s not something we’d jump at the chance to do but considering it could be life saving it’s so important. Thank you for commenting! xx

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