This post has some TMI in it. It’s about gynecological exams (pap smears). Please discontinue reading if this subject bothers you.
I have a confession. I put off my first gynecological exam for a few years. I was told by one doctor at 18 that I should start having one, but I had heard from others that it’s okay to wait until 21. I asked about this and the doctor gave me the go-ahead to wait. However, I knew when I was 21 that I really should have one done. Instead I just avoided scheduling my yearly check-up. I was almost 25 before I had my first gyncological exam and pap smear.
I put the pap smear off for emotional reasons. I was sexually abused as a child and I have body shame issues as a result. I’ve always felt more comfortable being overly modest. Honestly, I was panicky about the idea of having to get naked in a doctors office. I’m not entirely sure what gave me the confidence to go through with it. Part of it was just being tired of using condoms. I knew I had to have the exam to be given birth control. It was a lot more than that, though. I remember thinking I was tired of my life being impacted by what happened to me as a child. I was in therapy for years and emotionally am in a much better place than I was at as a teenager. The only way that my trauma was still holding me back was putting of this exam and not being able to get birth control. I also remember thinking that I hated the idea that my relationship with my boyfriend was being influenced (even though it was in such a tiny way) by what happened. I didn’t want to use condoms anymore, and I didn’t want my trauma to be the only reason why we were still using condoms instead of birth control. So I just made the appointment and did my best not to think about the appointment until I got there. I still felt panicky the night before (I had a really hard time falling asleep!) and on the drive to the appointment.
Once I was through with the appointment I honestly felt silly for putting it off for so long. It was not painful and it wasn’t even that awkward. My exam was done with my regular doctor. When I was called back for my appointment they had a tray out that had the speculate and a tube of lubricant on it. I was handed really large folded piece of paper. It was basically a gigantic napkin. When unfolded it was 3 or 4 foot square. I was asked to take my pants and panties off and to sit on the table with the napkin/paper on my lap. The paper was so big I could have wrapped it around me like a skirt! I was thankful that it was so big because it made the situation very modest. The doctor left while I was undressing, so I got out of my bottoms and sat on the table with the paper over me. It covered from the bottom of my shirt way down to my knees. The doctor came back in and pulled out stirrups. I think I had watched too many movies that show women giving birth. I always thought stirrups would put your legs WAY up in the air during a female exam. That was not the case at all. Instead the stirrups come out near where the foot stool is for the doctors table, so your legs hang down from your waist, they are not up in the air at all. The stirrups just help move your legs apart, they don’t lift them up at all.
I noticed that my doctor jumped in asking me several questions about my day to day life. I’ve had this doctor for a few years and she never makes small talk so I knew she was doing this to make me feel more comfortable. I believe she asked me where I lived and what I did for work or something like that. She explained to me that she was putting a lubricant on the speculum and that I should let her know if I get uncomfortable or feel pain at any time. She also just said ‘heads up I am going to touch you’ before inserting the speculum. It was a little cold but it was not physically painful at all. Instead I just felt pressure, and it wasn’t even a lot of pressure to where it would be uncomfortable. The speculum clicks as it is expanding and with each click I felt a bit more pressure but it wasn’t bad at all. I also wasn’t sure if it would be awkward for her to touch me before inserting it. However, in the position she had me laying in, with feet in the stirrups it provides really easy access so all I felt was the tip of her finger near my opening and that was it. It was very fast, I would guess that it was less than 10 seconds in and out.
Once she was done she removed the speculum on the tray. I noticed it was bloody which really surprised me because I wasn’t close to being on my period. To be hones that was the worst part for me, was just feeling embarrassed that it was bloody. She said she would leave the room again so I could get dressed. A nurse came in to take the sample she had gathered, and laid the napkin/paper thing I had covered myself with over the speculum to hide it which was really nice.
The appointment was very fast. The only other thing they had me do was pee in a cup. I believe this was just to verify that I was not pregnant before having me start birth control.
I share all of this to say that yearly female exams really are not that bad. After having mine, I’m surprised to hear middle aged women who have had children and such talk about putting theirs off. It’s not painful, and it’s not that socially or emotionally uncomfortable either as long as you have a considerate doctor. I’m so glad I got it over with. It’s a relief to not let my childhood trauma hold me back in any way anymore.