I wasn't going to write a blog post today. And I definitely wasn't going to write a blog post about this topic; but I shared a tweet this morning, and it had such an overwhelming response, that I wanted to share my experience.

Smear tests. Most women know that 6 months before your 25th birthday, a letter drops through your letterbox informing you that your first cervical screening test is due. I'll be honest - I have been dreading this moment for around a year now. I received my first letter in October 2018, as my 25th birthday is early March. I pushed it to the back of my mind until another letter came through a few weeks ago, with an information booklet. I reluctantly booked an appointment. 

I can honestly say that if my sister and mum hadn't had abnormal cells when they had their smear tests, I probably wouldn't have gone. I'd heard it was uncomfortable, and not a pleasant experience.

For anyone that doesn't know, a cervical screening test "involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. A device called a speculum will be put into your vagina and then used to open it gently. They then use a small brush to take a sample from the surface of your cervix". (NHS cervical screening leaflet)

I researched online and read that taking painkillers two hours before your appointment is really helpful, and being in the middle of your cycle is the best time to have it done. Painkiller-filled and 15 days into my cycle, I made my way into my GP today for my 10am appointment. I popped a rescue remedy sweet in to calm my nerves and watched the clock ticking until it was my turn.

I was lucky enough to have a nurse I've been seeing for almost 10 years now; so her familiar face put me at ease. She explained what would happen and I told her how nervous I was - although I'm sure she could tell that by the tears streaming down my face and my trembling body.

Smear test, taken from
She asked me to undress from the waist down (socks on!) and pop myself on the bed, with my knees bent, and apart. I had relaxed a little by this point and was almost certain it wouldn't hurt very much. She told me to focus on pushing my bottom into the bed as she inserted the speculum. When it first went in, I felt mild discomfort and didn't tense at all. As she opened the speculum, I actually cried out. The pain that followed was quite honestly one of the worst pains I'd ever experienced (I've had two heart operations - I thought my pain threshold was relatively high!). She repeatedly told me to relax and stay calm - but that's easier said than done when you're in intense pain. Everyone had told me the scraping of the cells was the worst part - but I was in so much pain from the speculum, I didn't feel a thing!

I will admit, I was very disheartened when I shouted out in pain and she didn't remove the speculum, but I do understand that she wanted it to be over for me as quick as possible. She did use the smallest size speculum for me, and apologised that she didn't have any smaller - so I'm assuming I have a small cervix.

A Speculum, taken from

When she removed it after about a minute in total, I sobbed, and was uncontrollably shaking from the shock and relief of it being over. My nurse told me that patients as nervous as me rarely come to get a smear test at all; let alone before their 25th birthday. She told me I should be so proud, and me and my jelly legs laid there half naked sobbing, whilst she held my hand and reassured me - what a start to a Friday morning.

Honesty? The pain was far worse than I was expecting. It isn't just uncomfortable - it hurt. But it was over so quickly. And if that potentially saves me from cancer, then I would (very reluctantly!) do it again. I do know that every woman is different, and from the tweets and messages I've received today, the spectrum is wide. Some found it uncomfortable, some found it really hurt, some bled, some had period type pain. We are all different, so don't undermine someone else's experience because it wasn't the same as yours.

I did leave feeling very emotional, and even a little ashamed. I think as women, we are told to just grin and bear it, all whilst they stick a plastic instrument up your hoo-ha, open you up, and stick a brush in to have a spring clean.

As I'm typing this, it's been 4 hours since the test. I've taken more painkillers, and I can only describe the pain now as similar to when you lose your virginity. It stings to pee, and you're left walking like John Wayne in a cowboy movie. I haven't bled (yet), but I did pack some panty liners and a spare pair of knickers, just incase. Again, every woman is different, so I'd definitely go prepared on all fronts.

Although I'm pleased it's over, and I'd possibly do it again if it meant I may not get cancer - I'm really struggling to think of a reason why there isn't a new updated method yet which doesn't cause women to be in this much pain. I was talking to Samantha Shannon about it today, who posted this great thread a few months ago: speculum thread. The design of the speculum is over 200 years old, and was invented by a MAN who did gynaecological experiments on female slaves - someone please tell me why things haven't progressed?

I also think if you're a woman and you've had a positive or negative experience - share it. It's such a taboo topic, but talk about it to friends. Family. Put it on social media. Make people realise that they're not alone if they're anxious about it.

My top tips would be:

  • Bring pantyliners and underwear
  • Take painkillers 2 hours before your appointment
  • Take a herbal remedy to calm yourself down if you're anxious
  • Push your bottom down onto the bed as much as you can

I wish I didn't have to share a list of tips to make a painful experience slightly more bearable. I wish there was an updated method for the females that it is really painful for. Here's hoping that before my next one, it becomes even slightly easier.

If anyone has any questions, or wants to chat about it - please don't hesitate to. Even if you think it's something small; I'll help in any way that I can. It's not a pleasant experience, but please book your appointment. A minute of pain, and a day or two of discomfort, could potentially save your life. 

For more information, check out this great article from Jo's Trust

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