Sunday 9 December 2018

The Truth About Smear Tests

I recently read an article about how smear tests have dropped to a 21 year low. I honestly find this so concerning and I wanted to know more. 
Why? What's stopping people?
Are they scared it will hurt? Too embarrassed about getting undressed? Worried about the results?

I wanted to know the reasons behind it and so I decided to do some research of my own. I asked around on social media for ladies stories and views on cervical screening.
I wanted to hear from women who had been for their screenings; who had good experiences, bad experiences, I wanted to hear from women who had never had one, and women who have had them for years.

I just wanted to gather a collection of opinions and combine them all into one post. One of the most Googled questions about cervical screening is of course...will it hurt? We sit there and scroll endlessly reading through different web pages, all saying different things. I wanted to make this post so you can see everyone is different, and make your own mind up on this.

I also wanted to share my smear test story with you all; the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is something quite personal to me but if it helps people then I'm happy to talk about it!

A huge thank you to all the lovely ladies who helped me out with my research. All stories have been provided anonymously.

So lets start with mine, let's get it out the way.

I had my first smear test when I was 22. In the UK, we are not offered cervical screening until we are 25. However, I decided to go through a private service and pay £100 for peace of mind.
I had been bleeding after intercourse and struggling with pain.
I was convinced something was wrong and I was so so nervous to go. I had to talk myself around to actually going on the day and I'm so glad that I did.

When I got there, there were two lovely ladies who were super kind. One was in training and the other nurse performed the screening.
As it was private, they used a camera so I could see for myself which was pretty cool. It's not very often you get to see inside your cervix!

The procedure did not hurt, not even in the slightest. It wasn't even uncomfortable and I was surprised when it was over. I didn't understand what all the fuss and worry was about. Why were people scared to go for these things? Why had they got a bad reputation?

Anyway it was a week later and thankfully my results came back 'normal' and so I wasn't due one for another 3 years. By this point I would be 25 and due one on the NHS.
I was so so happy that I went to my smear test because that gave me another 3 years of not having to worry about it. Even though I had problems with bleeding, it was one less thing to be paranoid about.

My next smear test was very different.

When I was called for it, I booked it right away. No nerves whatsoever because I already knew it wouldn't hurt.
I went in, the nurse was super lovely. I wasn't uncomfortable about getting undressed.

She started to insert the speculum and I realised pretty soon that this was actually hurting me but I tried to keep my mouth shut and just breathe through it but the pain was getting unbearable pretty quickly so they had to stop. I think they presumed it was just my pain threshold and I was a bit of wimp but I knew something wasn't right. 

They tried again with the help of another lady that they called in, and realised they couldn't find my cervix as my uterus is retroverted. This means it's backwards. Uterus's tend to tilt slightly forward towards your tummy but mine lies back quite far towards my bowels making it difficult to view my cervix.

They had to tilt it themselves so they were moving my cervix around and I could feel what felt like an open wound and at this point I was crying my eyes out and I had another lady stroking my hair telling me to breathe. It was honestly like I was in labour. 

When she was done, she asked me if I was on my period and I said 'no...why'?
She told me I was bleeding quite a lot and this might affect my results so it was likely I might have to repeat the test. She told me this wasn't normal but advised I wait for the results just in case they do work. She also referred me to a gynaecologist because we both knew something wasn't right.

As you can imagine, it was the worst 2 week wait of my life.

When my results came through, they were normal. Which really surprised me. I wasn't sure whether to believe them...I went for my gynaecology appointment and I was immediately diagnosed with endometriosis. 

Not only that but vaginismus, which is trauma to the vagina. My vagina would basically have involuntary muscle spasms and wouldn't allow anything to go near it. It's almost like it closed up through fear. Quite funny really. But it affected me for that long that me and my partner didn't have sex for a whole year and then we broke up. The break up wasn't because of that but I can imagine it probably contributed.

Now you're probably thinking, why on earth are you sharing this story if you want people to go for their tests???? 

The reason I am sharing this is because I had a 45 minute traumatising experience and yet I would go again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. 

I would rather have an awful 45 minute procedure and a temporarily affected sex life, than have cancer and go through years of pain and chemotherapy and possibly even death.

Was it worth all the hassle? Of course it was!

It doesn't matter if it hurts, it's potentially saving your life!

But the main thing to take away from my story is that, the reason mine was so painful was because something was wrong. This isn't normal. Smear tests aren't usually like this. It hurt because I have endometriosis combined with a retroverted uterus. It was nothing to do with the smear test. It was my body. If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have been diagnosed. That's something I am so thankful for. You would be surprised what you can find out through a screening! Even if not directly.

I've had several gynaecology tests since then, all of them absolute agony and that's just me, that won't change, my uterus is backwards and that's just my luck.

'If you go for a smear test and nothing is wrong, it won't be painful. Slightly uncomfortable, yeah maybe, who cares? At the end of the day if you can put male genitalia in it, I'm sure you can handle a swab'
- Stacie Cunningham, 2018 

If you go and it's unbearably painful you'll be glad you went because surely you would rather know something was wrong then never know??

I compare it to labour. Majority of people want kids, right? If we can decide that having a child is worth the traumatising experience of labour and people even decide to do it all over again and have another child..then surely a smear test is nothing compared to that.

You'll plan to have a child because you're broody but you won't have a smear test to save your life, literally?

Labour is not the nicest experience but it's worth it.
A smear test is not the nicest experience but it's worth it.

So that's my story. I've experienced the best and the worst of it and yet it hasn't put me off.
I shared this story with my friend the other day who said she was scared to book it and after telling her my story, she booked it there and then and I couldn't have been more proud. I'm now waiting on her text to say 'that was fine, I don't know why I worried'.

Now let me share other peoples quick quotes with you...

"I had mine done a few months before my 25th birthday and didn't even give it a second thought, booked it in and went for it! Was no problem whatsoever, no pain or nothing."

"It makes me laugh how much effort we put into preparing our vajajas before a smear. Proper groom and freshen before our appointment which takes 35 seconds if that. Some girls won't go for a smear but will have one night stands."

"I had my first one a few weeks ago, it was a bit uncomfortable as she couldn't find my cervix at first but other than that fine. I definitely recommend everyone goes, it saves lives."

"I went for my first one a couple of years ago, it never crossed my mind not to go! Abnormal cells have occurred in several of my female families cervix's and what stopped those abnormal cells getting more serious were regular smear tests. I'd hate to think I'd lost some of the most influential and loving people in my life for the sake of a swab. I understand it's intimate, however it is over in less than a minute. If you can deal with blood tests and sexual health screening you can have a smear. I also think us as women need to talk about it more and encourage each other. Just that little reassurance might help someone in a big way."

"I find it not quite painful, but uncomfortable, which then puts me on edge the next time."

"After having been examined down there for my endometriosis a thousand times, having needles as big as my arm inside (slight exaggeration) and biopsies taken, I still put mine off for a year! It's daunting for the result more so than anything else. It is personal, however as a nurse I can say we don't take a second look, it's everyday life seeing private parts. So don't ever feel you need to be embarrassed or anything because it's second nature. Trust me, we have seen it all! Do it ladies, as you never know!"

"People think too much into it. I have a friend who's a practice nurse and does smears routinely and I swear she always says she doesn't remember peoples bits ever. I myself have been for mine and yeah it was slightly uncomfortable but after having a child, one more person looking at my vag was nothing!'

"I had my first smear test two weeks ago. Dreaded it and cancelled it twice!! She struggled to find my cervix at first but really wasn't anything to worry about. Worth just biting the bullet and getting it done for peace of mind. Glad I went in the end!"

"I had one recently and it was a bit awkward and uncomfortable but apart from that it was fine."

"I had mine done about 2 years ago and it's honestly nothing to worry about, it's uncomfortable but definitely worth getting done."

"Well mine was fine. The nurse did disappear when she was checking it...I believe she may still be in there! I get mine done regularly and it's painless."

"I've had a smear test, a hysteroscopy, and a coil put in 4 times. You get used to being faffed with. It didn't hurt at all, it was more so uncomfortable because you've got to get your nunny out to a nurse you're probably not keen on. The nurse I saw was very aware that she knows it's awkward but got me in and out as quick as she could. My results came back in 2 weeks and were clear. I'll definitely go again when I'm called next year. It's so important and people don't realise. It's understandable why women are scared or nervous but that 5 minute could save your life and with so many people under the age limit for it getting cancer and losing their lives is not worth it in my opinion!"

"I have a smear test every year and my next one is next week. It isn't pleasant but I'm glad I went, every year I have abnormal cells. Now you instantly worry and think the worst. If I had been taught more about sexually transmitted diseases I may have avoided getting a certain strand of the HPV virus. The HPV virus is in everyone, like cold sores, and it just takes something to trigger it. There are so many strands. This means you can be at risk of abnormal cells that can develop into cancer but caught early enough, they just get lasered off. My first smear was abnormal and the hospital was rubbish and didn't give me a biopsy like they should have. I registered with a new GP and I love my new nurse! She is amazing and puts you at ease, she took a biopsy and it didn't come back completely clear so I have them every year. I hate them but my god do you feel good after going because if you leave it too long it could be worse. The smear itself is just uncomfortable and like mild period pain"

"They lost my results. And then called to say they need to discuss my test, scared wasn't the word. Now I haven't had time to go back. The only reason I went was because they kept hounding me by post and calling which I really liked. It was fine though, like having a really long willy, that's all I can compare it to"

As you can see for the majority of women, it wasn't painful. Slightly uncomfortable was the worst.
And each and every one of them would go back again and considered it worth it.
Your life is more important that temporary pain or embarrassment.

And that is my truth. And the voices of women around me. 

Please if you are reading this and have delayed going for your test. Just book it. Get it out the way. Do it right now. As we speak. It will be one thing off your mind and you'll thank me for it later.

A huge thank you to all the ladies featured in this post. Some of you opened up about some very personal things and I appreciate your honesty. Let's empower each other to get smear tests to an all time high! 

Disclaimer: All photos are extracts from Rupi Kaurs 'Milk and Honey' and 'The Sun and her Flowers'.


  1. This must of been such a hard experience for you but well done for being brave enough to share it. I 100% agree young women need to be more aware and positive about smear tests. I've had a few and unfortunately recently had a scare which resulted in me being told I have Polycystic Ovaries and need to have surgery for Endometriosis. Smear tests can help a women become more aware with their female body. Great post lovely xo

    Pinar |

    1. Thank you so much Pinar! I'm really over the moon at the response this post has had, it's also amazing to see how many women agree. I've managed to convince some people to book their tests and even if it's only one person I'm happy! xx

  2. Great post Stacie! It's really important for more women to be aware of the importance of smear tests. I love thay your post is encouraging women to be comfortable with examining their bodies. Thank you for sharing your experience xx

    Taiwo |

  3. Thank you so much! I just wanted to help change the stigma around it in any way I can! It's so important! Thank you for reading <3 xx

  4. THhis is so interesting!! I appreciate how you got all of these women’s view point on it! It never occurred to me not to go. In the U.S we get pap’s at 21! I don’t remember it being painful, maybe a little uncomfortable but nothing serious. I’ll sorry you had such a traumatizing experience. I’ll be praying for you with that Endo as well! I know that can be painful!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it! I wish it was like that in the UK. So many women are scared to go and that's what scares me!
      Thank you for your lovely kind words! xx


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