A No-BS Retelling Of Me Getting A Pap Smear For The First Time

Warning: things can get graphic up ahead!

Published On Feb 22, 2024 | Updated On Mar 04, 2024


“It'll just be a minute of discomfort and look how tiny the brush is… it's like a mascara brush!” said my gynecologist before the test!

I was first introduced to the idea of a pap smear from TV (making a case for women's health to be taught in schools). I was watching Masters Of Sex (2013), a series delving into the research and dynamic between William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who were groundbreaking researchers in human sexuality at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the lead protagonists spoke about how it's a necessary procedure for women to undergo, which made me wonder, “How have I never heard about this?” Pap smears have been around since the 1920s; it is a medical procedure that screens for cervical cancer. During the test, cells from the cervix are collected and examined for abnormalities or signs of cancer. And it's widely believed that regular pap smears are crucial for preventive healthcare for women. CRUCIAL. 

A recent spike in discussion around cervical cancer, a new HPV vaccine in the market and the need for taking control of our own sexual health got me booking a slot with my gynecologist last week. And while I practically INHALED the hospital pamphlet and multiple articles online as to what to expect from the procedure, the actual test was a different experience altogether. So if you too are on your way RN, or waiting in the nurses office to get "papped', or thinking of booking a test, here's my personal experience to gain some insight from. 


For starters, when done by a licensed and experienced professional, pap smears are NOT PAINFUL. They're uncomfortable yes, but not painful. And depending on your familiarity with your own body, the experiences can vary. And not to brag, I kind of aced the test (the overachiever in me said vaginal test or not, I'm getting full marks!). And some of the things that I did, and recommended by my attending gynecologist, that helped ease the exam were:

*Make sure to book your exam when you're not menstruating. Menstrual blood can interfere with the results. My timing was ideal as it was around 20 days after the first day of my last menstrual period.

  1. The prep: Thoroughly clean the area with a gentle soap and water and make sure to wear breathable fabrics while you head to the exam room. If you have been skimping on tending to your lady garden, especially around the vaginal opening for a more comfortable experience. Empty your bladder before the exam and wipe with a tissue so that the area is dry. Don't over wash or over wipe because vaginal dryness can come in the way of a smooth exam.
  2. The exam room: Depending on the healthcare provider, you'll be asked to dress down and put on a gown. Since I was in a comfortable, fitted top and flared skirt, I could remain in the clothes I came in. I was given a blanket to cover myself though because the doctor's office can get cold! I laid down on the examination table with your feet placed on hip width apart. The first step is the insertion of a speculum into the vagina to gently hold the vaginal walls apart, allowing the cervix to be visible. Then a small brush is used to collect a sample of cells from the cervix. This process is quick and caused mild discomfort but wasn't painful. Imagine somebody putting pressure on your lower abdomen, that was about it for me!
  3. What helped: A couple of things helped make the experience comfortable for me. (A) For starters, I spent a considerable amount of time speaking to my gynecologist about my sexual health. Be open with your gynaec because the more they know, the better they will be able to customise the experience for you. Since it was the first time for me, my gynac made sure to give me all the details of the exam beforehand and talked me through it. Express your concerns and tell them that you're nervous, they won't rush you! (B) Reach for your personal relaxation hacks. For me, activating my vagus nerve by making my breath exhalations longer than my inhalations, helped me calm down just before and during the exam. The whole things takes less than five minutes and the more relaxed your muscles are, and thus your vagina is, the easier the speculum insertion will be. (C) Leave the taboo at the door. One of the leading cause of women not putting their sexual health forward, or even talking about is the taboo around medical exams like the pap smear. Leave it at home. Your sexual organs are organs too. It's like getting your ears checked. Or keeping up with your dentist appointments. The more you're open and logical about this, the less nervous you will be. For me, talking to the community of women around me about their experiences with the test was a big encouragement to prepare myself mentally. So don't be shy about putting a message in your WhatsApp trio group that has the weirdest name possible!

Since the relationship with one's body is entirely personal, it's possible that you may have different experience than mine. This is why it is essential to do your research in seeking out the right healthcare provider for you and following their instructions to make sure you're doing the right thing for yourself. So get booking, and get “papped”!

Photo: Shutterstock