Healthy Body

From leg spasms to speculum giggles – 3 smear test stories that’ll help you feel less embarrassed at your next appointment

Emma Harpham, Editor  |   20 Jun 2024

Cervical screening, also known as a smear test or pap smear, is a super key health checkup for anyone with a cervix – no matter how you identify, and whether you’ve dated men or women. 

In the UK, you’ll be invited for your first test after turning 25. Attendance is a choice and it’s completely up to you whether you go or not, but folks, it bears repeating – it’s still one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer.

Still, 1 in 3 of us put off going to our smear test. We know, the prospect isn’t exactly fun. Everyone has heard the odd horror story. And, not surprisingly, feeling awkward and embarrassed plays a huge role for so many of us.

3 smear test stories from the TRB team 

We know that everyone will have a completely different experience of testing, and our life stage, gender identity, relationship with our body, and health status all play a role. 

So in honour of Cervical Screening Awareness Week, we’re sharing some of our own team’s smear test stories from across the desks at TRB HQ to help you feel less worried – plus a few top tips for making your next appointment feel more comfortable. 

From leg spasms to speculum giggles, let’s spill some testing tea.

Rolled-up skirts & nurse giggles

Hollie, 29, Content Manager at TRB

I remember I had my first cervical screening test right at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, in 2020. So of course, I had to wear a mask. Not ideal, when I was already feeling flustered about what I should wear, whether I should shave down there, and whether it would really hurt as much as I’d heard!

Wearing a skirt was the best decision though. I could just roll it up and shimmy my underwear off, and didn’t have to worry so much about the process of getting half-naked in a cold, clinical room. After that, the nurse popped a little sheet over my bottom half for modesty anyway.

We ended up having a laugh about how much we hated doing Zoom quizzes!

Chatting with the nurse also helped the process feel less embarrassing, especially as she was telling me to ‘open my legs like a frog’ so she could put the speculum in! She asked me about my plans for the weekend whilst carrying out the test and we ended up having a laugh about how much we hated doing Zoom quizzes, which was a welcome distraction from the light cramping I felt as she swabbed my cervix.  

Since then, I put off booking my second test for a while – not great, I know! Something that made things easier for me was booking in for their earliest slot available, at 8am. This didn’t give me too much time to think about the test before I had to just go and do it. 

Plus, it was a great excuse to treat myself to some me-time over a coffee and pastry before heading into the office afterwards.

smear test stories

Leg spasms & rescheduling around pregnancy 

Jessie, 38, Senior Contributing Editor at TRB

For my first few tests, I thought I was calm, cool and collected, but I think I was probably feeling more stressed out about it mentally than I realized. So much so that it started to manifest physically. 

During one test, I remember having crazy leg spasms that I almost had no control over! I ended up having to leave before the nurse could even insert the speculum, and although it had the potential to be mega embarrassing, the team were really kind and supportive and helped me book in a new date. 

I’d say being mindful and breathing through the test helps, even if you don’t think you’re nervous.

Since becoming a mum and having two vaginal births, I definitely feel more relaxed about going for my screenings! 

I would say, do check your testing frequency, and make sure your GP has your frequency up to date if you’ve recently had a baby. You can’t have a smear test when you’re pregant, so if you receive an invite, you should put it off until after your baby is born, and make sure you’re invited again, usually around 3 months after your baby is due.

Also, you can definitely make requests during your cervical screening appointment. 

Whether it’s asking for a smaller sized speculum (you can even ask to put it in yourself by the way, game changer if that’s the worst part for you!) or requesting the option to lie on your side, it’s your time, and your team should absolutely accommodate your comfort and preferences.

smear test stories underwear

Poorly hidden underwear & confusing results 

Emma, 28, Editor at TRB

Before I was invited for my first test, I wondered if I even needed to have a cervical screening. 

I’d had the HPV vaccine at age 14 in secondary school, so I in my early 20’s, I think I just assumed I might not need to worry about it. However, the vaccine doesn’t protect you from all types of HPV, so knowing I was still at risk, I made sure to book in. 

After spending way too much time trying to hide my thong behind my tiny bag (the nurses literally don’t care if you’ve had discharge that day) the test was over in about 30 seconds with very minimal discomfort for me. I just had to put my clothes back on, and have a quick chat with the nurse about what would happen next before I could get back to my day.

She warned me that some women experience spotting, or light bleeding, after the test. It still took me by surprise when I went to the loo a few hours later, but knowing it was completely normal was really reassuring. 

The nurses literally don’t care if you’ve had discharge that day

I had my first smear test when I was living in Sweden for work. And maybe it was the language barrier, but at first, I didn’t realise that there were actually three possible results;

  • HPV negative
  • Inadequate
  • HPV positive

Getting an HPV negative result will be the outcome for most of us, and it means that you don’t need to do anything or come back again until you’re called for your next test in three years time.

An inadequate result, which was what I got my first time around, can feel scary, but it shouldn’t be confused with an HPV positive result. It basically means that their findings are unclear, and that you’ll be asked to go back in three months to repeat the test again.

If your results are HPV positive, you’ll be invited for screening in one year to see if you still have HPV. If your results indicate that you also have cell changes in the mix, you’ll be asked to have a colposcopy, which is a quick procedure to have a closer look at your cervix. 

For me, understanding the results and what would happen next was a massive help.

Our team tips for making your cervical screening test more comfortable

We love a pre-appointment checklist – and we wish we’d had this one for our first smear tests!

Here are our personal favourite pointers to take along to your next cervical screening:

  1. Wear a comfy skirt or oversized tee⁠
  2. Ask for a longer appointment if you’d like more time to talk things through⁠
  3. Ask to put the speculum in yourself, or for a smaller one⁠
  4. Ask to lie on your side if it’s more comfortable for you⁠
  5. Ask for a chaperone or another doctor if they are not providing informed consent or walking you through the process in a way that makes you feel safe and reassured

Next on your reading list: Ovarian cysts are more common than you’d think – so why aren’t we talking about the symptoms?

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