8 Things You Have To Know Before Getting Your First Pap Smear

Growing up as a girl means going through some pretty rough rites of passage. The list includes, but is not limited to, getting your first period (usually in the middle of the day when you are wearing light colored pants and have no supplies on hand), having your first pregnancy scare (even if you’re still a virgin), and going to the gynecologist for your first pap smear. The thought of having a stranger stick a cold metal tool into your vagina is low-key terrifying and very intimidating. The days leading up to your appointment are filled with questions like, “How much is it going to hurt?” and “Are they going to judge my vagina?” and “How do I prepare?” But, to be honest with you, it’s probably not going to be what you expect, which is why there are some things you need to know before you go to the gyno.

I still remember the fear I felt when I was about to have my first pap smear. More experienced friends had told me what it was, and it seemed horrifying. I was a shy, insecure virgin, and I was pretty convinced something was going to go horribly wrong and/or that it would take days before I could walk normally again. Then I went to the doctor and… it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Seriously! I don’t want you guys to feel the same way I did, so when I saw this Ask Reddit thread about what women wish they knew before going into it, I wanted to share it. Here are a few things you have to know before getting your first pap smear so that you can actually be prepared.

You Can Request A Female Doctor

One thing about pap smears that a lot of girls stress over is having a male doctor perform it. Obviously, gynecologists can be male or female, and you don't always feel like you have control over who your doctor is, whether your mom is sending you to someone, you're going somewhere because of insurance, or you go to a clinic like Planned Parenthood. If you're totally freaked out by the idea of a male doctor going down there for a pap smear, listen to this advice from user shkinikwe: "I wish someone had told me I could request a female doctor."

Yes, it's true - you absolutely have control over who your doctor is. Before making an appointment, find out if the doctor will be male or female, and ask for a female doctor. If you can't do that, and a male doctor walks in the room that day, you can definitely say you're not comfortable and would prefer a female. This is totally fine!

Source: iStock

You Can Ask For A Smaller Speculum

A lot of women don't realize how much control they have at the gynecologist, and this extends to the tools being used. Reddit user rolabond points out that, "You can request different sized speculums." If you see the doctor grabbing something terrifying, ask if they have a smaller option. But beware: another Reddit user, who says she is a medical professional blumpy45 says, "You can - but not all places carry them and for some procedures you can only use one size. Size difference is more to do with width than length; so if hitting the back is the issue, that won't help. You can also ask for more lubricant if that is part of the issue you're having."

Source: iStock

The Pain Is Different For Everyone

You know when you hear some women say a pap smear isn't that bad, and then you hear another one cry about how awful it is? It's kind of scary. But, as user Beachy5313 points out, "Everyone has different pain tolerances- I was told that it would be painful. It wasn't exactly lounging in bed, but I wouldn't say it hurt." What doesn't hurt for one person might be really painful for someone else, and vice versa.

Source: iStock

Not Every Doctor Is Great

Yes, gynecologists are medical professionals who went through a lot of school and probably have a lot of experience. But, just like with any other professional, that doesn't necessarily mean they're great at everything. Sometimes people think doctors are good at what they do just because they are doctors, and that isn't true. User alittlebitcheeky says, "That lady doctors can be terrible at taking smears. My first smear hurt and I bled a lot, every subsequent smear hasn't been half as bad. I'm 90% certain the doctor I saw just wanted to get it over and done with and wasn't as gentle as she should have been."

If you have a sucky experience or feel like you don't love your doctor, make an appointment with a differnet one next time around.

Source: iStock

You're Always Going To Feel Weird About Having A Doctor Down There

If you're freaked out by the idea of a stranger staring at your vagina and basically putting their fingers in it, that feeling will probably never totally go away. As user TIAT323 says, "There is no amount of prettying up you do for the occasion, you'll still feel like the gyno is about to see the ugliest vagina in the world."

Now, of course, this does not mean they are. Try to remember that gynecologists look at and touch vaginas for a living. They have seen many, many different kinds and probably aren't phased by them anymore.

Source: iStock

It's Faster Than You Think

Gong into my first pap smear, I expected to be at the appointment for a long time. I had no clue how long the pap smear would take, but from the horror stories I had heard and the dread with which women's magazines discussed them, I assumed it was a long time. Like Reddit user maknaenayeon[S] says, "I wish someone would've told me that it's such a quick thing."

Pap smears are SO FAST. They're almost over before you know it! The gyno gets the speculum in there, does its thing, and pulls it out. If all goes smoothly, I want to say it's less than two minutes. The thing that will make it take longer is usually you - if you're very nervous and scared and you clench up too much, they'll have trouble getting it in there and that will extend the process. So, try to relax as much as possible and it will be over before you can feel too much pain.

Source: iStock

A Pap Smear Is Done To Check For Cancer

Many women know they're supposed to get a pap smear by a certain age, but they don't know exactly why. In fact, a lot of girls have no idea what pap smears do. I've heard girls say they thought pap smears checked for STDs or STIs. Some girls think you don't need one until you have sex, but the two don't go hand in hand. User CardinalWinter says, "I just had my first Pap smear and I actually don't know what Pap smears are for. So I guess I should've known that."

A pap smear is done to check for cervical cancer. That's why it has to scrape your cervix. Cervical cancer screenings are really important, because the sooner it's caught, the better your chances of surviving are. Knowing the importance of a pap smear might make you feel a little bit better about it.

Source: iStock

It's Really Not As Bad As You Think

I know this sounds like something your mom would say, but honestly, the biggest thing to take away from this post is that a pap smear really isn't as horrible as people make it out to be. I mean, sure, it's never comfortable or fun, but it's really not the end of the world. As user NotKara says, "That it's really not that big of a deal. My doctor told me to relax and count to 10. By the time I got to 6 it was over. I was like "That's it? I spent two weeks worrying about this and hearing how awful it was and that's it?" Obviously it's worse for some than others, but being nervous and tense rarely makes anything easier."

Source: iStock

What do you wish you knew before your first pap smear? What do you want to know before yours? Let us know in the comments.

You can follow the author, Jessica Booth, on Twitter or Instagram.

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