1. It’s nagging at you
How many NHS letters have you had by now, woman?! If you’re anything like me (from my 25th birthday onwards I managed to deliberately ignore the four letters in rapid succession), then it’s time to suck it up and book. Don't try to tell me it hasn't been playing on your mind since that very first letter. Free yourself of that nagging feeling, already.
NB: Remember the appointment has to be mid-cycle, i.e. two weeks after your last period. So make a note of yours beforehand so the receptionist doesn’t have to sit on the other end of the line, waiting as you mutter, “Well, I think I started irrationally crying at Crufts on Friday and I had to ask a stranger for a tampon in the looks at Nando's Saturday so it must be...”
2. It takes 5 minutes
and that’s not even five minutes of doctor-vagina contact. That includes going in the nurse’s room, getting undressed and redressed as well as the speculum up your nunny. The speculum part is about 45 seconds to a minute, max.
3. It isn’t painful
Honestly, vagina stuff tends to make me squeamish (as in, I’m a bit nervous of super-super sized tampons and other people’s camel toes make me physically flinch, if only in frontal-wedgie pain empathy), so I hear you. But if you’ve not had it before and are scared – don’t be. You can request the smallest speculum if you are anxious, and remember to breathe deeply. They cover the speculum in lube, so it glides in very easily (a bit chilly, admittedly!) and when it is widened, to allow the swab – you feel it only very slightly. I have had a few now and it’s never been worse than the mildest discomfort, a feeling similar to period pain – and now I’m used to them, it’s a breeze. Also, FYI, taking two paracetamol beforehand really can help.
4. It isn’t embarrassing
People are a bit embarrassed about a doctor seeing their bits. But to a doctor, it’s just another part of the anatomy. Have you ever seen Dr Christian Jessen flinch at vagina? OF COURSE NOT. If he can maintain his steely-yet-affable composure in the face of all those Embarrassing Bodies close-ups of weeping boils and foot mushrooms, then he can look at your flange, too. The same is true of the rest of the medical establishment. And just think – medical professionals are adequately recompensed in the form of a paycheque
5.It’s bloody FREE
The NHS is a wondrous thing. Many other places charge quite a lot of dollah to have a virtual stranger insert curiously shaped implements up one’s privates. Add onto this the fact that, if cells are abnormal, they also check for the Human Papilloma Virus, you’re actually getting two for the price of one...free! In countries where cervical screening is not free, it is still a common cause of cancer-related death. We are very lucky.
NB: The Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV for short, is a virus which lives in moist areas of your body – mouth, anus, cervix, throat. There are over 100 types, 40 of which can affect the genitals. Some types can cause abnormal tissue growth (mainly HPV16 and HPV 18), which can lead to cervical cancer, though the body’s immune system tends to sort it out. You can read more about it here.
6. If your results are clear, you won’t need another one for three years
Which means the sooner you get book it, the sooner you’re quite possibly done for ages. And results are clear for 19 out of 20 cases.
7. It’s to help you prevent cervical cancer.
Seems like a no-brainer but I know that for me, and plenty of other girls, the need for a smear starts your brain racing in scary directions – especially “will I have cancer?” So, for some bizarre reason, we put off the test, or don’t even have it, so that we don’t have to risk hearing that sort of news. But the test is predominantly to help doctors detect pre-cancerous cells, therefore prevent cervical cancer (this Hairpin article
explains pre-cancerous cervical cells better than we ever could). So take your head out the sand and book your appointment, pronto.
8. In many cases, the cells go back to normal on their own.
OK, so, like me, you may be one of the 1 in 20 people who have ‘abnormal’ results. For me, they were borderline abnormal, which means I had to have a smear test every 6 months, which I did thrice. I’m waiting on the results of my third one. They have all come back as normal so far, meaning that the cells in my cervix seem to have sorted themselves out, but it's important (not to mention comforting) that they keep checking.
9. You may need treatment, but it is almost always 100% successful.
Two of my friends have needed a colposcopy after irregular results (see this post on my own Vagina Panic here
- Ed). This is where the doctor makes a more lengthy examination of your cervix, and may take a biopsy, and maybe even treat the cells there and then. There are loads of ways they may do this – one of my friends has had LLETZ (a heated loop of wire removes abnormal cells) and one has had laser, but you can check out the NHS website for a detailed account of all the treatments available. I’m being honestly here – neither girl enjoyed the procedure, but said it wasn’t awful, it was over quickly, and it meant they were free of the abnormal cells. The worst part was probably no sex for a month.
10. You’re a feminist
And therefore you believe us women should be helping one another, especially by TALKING ABOUT THIS SHIT. And this starts with helping yourself, so be strong and wise and book your smear test, like, now.