Getting a pap smear is never an enjoyable experience, but it’s a necessary evil. Dr Mary Stewart is the Acting Medical Director at Family Planning NSW. Here she reveals 11 things that your doctor wishes you wouldn’t do before a pap test – for both your sakes.
1. Vajazzle before your appointment
“I wish women wouldn’t worry about having to shave or wax before coming to see me, because I really don’t care if they’ve waxed or shaved, and it’s entirely up to them what they want to do with their pubic hair – we see all sorts of different women with all sorts of embellishments on their vulva and it makes no difference to us.
“I’m really sorry I didn’t shave,” is one thing I hear – and my response? It absolutely doesn’t matter either way.”
2. Not telling your doctor when you have a concern about your vulva
“I think it’s important that women tell us what they are concerned about before we examine them – this way we can see if there is a problem and reassure them if there isn’t.
“Sometimes a client will ask once they’re putting their clothes back on, “Did you notice that area on my vulva I’m worried about?” it’s not particularly helpful at that point – if they mentioned it up front it would be much more beneficial.”
3. Book a short appointment
“I wish women booked longer appointments! Even though it’s a short procedure, it does take a little bit of time beforehand to talk about it, fill in forms, and it’s a good opportunity to talk about other reproduction and sexual health issues.
“Just let the receptionist know beforehand that it’s for a pap test, or they can tell them they would like a long consultation, that way the appropriate time can be booked.”
4. Wear clothes that take a long time to change in and out of
“Make sure you wear comfortable clothes that you feel comfortable taking on and off without feeling embarrassed.
“To be having a conversation with your GP while struggling to put stockings back on can be uncomfortable, and awkward [for the patient].”
5. Not telling your doctor that you have found pap smears uncomfortable in the past
“I wish women would tell us if they had difficulties with pap smears before, because it shouldn’t be a painful procedure. If we know it has been a uncomfortable in the past, there are things we can do to make sure our patient is a little bit more at ease.”
6. Not having oestrogen pills beforehand if you’re post menopausal.
“Women who are post menopausal can see their doctor a week or two before their pap test to request some vaginal oestrogen cream or tablets – this will ensure that the procedure is a little bit more comfortable for them.
“Evidence shows this also improves the accuracy of the results and minimises the need for repeat tests.”
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7. Come in on the heaviest day of your period
“Women don’t have to wait until they’re exactly mid cycle, though some women think they might need to. So long as they’re not bleeding at the time, it’s absolutely fine.
“Even if there’s a little bit of bleeding it’s still not a problem, but it can mean that the test isn’t easily read by the pathologist and may need to be repeated.”
8. Put fragrance on your vagina
“We recommend that women don’t use lots of fragrances or douche because it disrupts the normal vaginal environment.
“So don’t worry about doing it for your doctor’s behalf! It’s better for your own vaginal health if you’re not over washing anyway.”
9. Avoid the bathroom
“It’s a good idea to empty your bladder”.
“Patients often apologise for having a pap test – they don’t need to apologise – it’s empowering to feel comfortable enough to be examined by a doctor or nurse. It’s my job and I’m happy that it’s something I can do to help women.
“We see the female anatomy all of the time – woman may not do it all of the time – but as health professionals, we do. They should feel comfortable that we’re very comfortable with doing what we do, and it’s not a problem for us.”
11. Worry – it’s really not that bad
There’s nothing I love more than the woman saying afterwards, “that really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be”, because that makes me feel confident that they’ll be back in for their next pap test – taking care of your health is the most important thing.
Dr Mary Stewart is the Acting Medical Director at Family Planning NSW. Mary practices clinically in the Family Planning NSW Ashfield clinic, is responsible for Family Planning NSW’s training of health professionals and health professional resource development.