Sexual Health – PAPS

Sexual Health – PAPS

For people with a vagina, there is an important exam you need to have done called a PAP test. You should have your first PAP test once you have been sexually active for 3 years. This test checks for abnormal cells and cancer cells in your cervix. While the PAP exam does not check for STIs, you can have an STI test done at the very same time.

While many women don’t like having this exam done, it can save your life. It only takes about 5 minutes, and you only have to have the exam every 2 years (unless your nurse or doctor tells you otherwise).

Check out this video from Eskasoni Women about how they feel about PAP exams:

So what happens during the exam?

You get undressed from the waist down, and then lie down on an exam table. There are foot rests on either side of the table for your feet to rest in. This means your legs will be spread apart and your vagina will be in sight. You will have a sheet over your legs, and when you are ready the nurse or doctor enters the room. (If the nurse or doctor is a male, you will be asked if you want a female staff member to stay in the room with you). The nurse or doctor will sit on a little stool at the end of the table, where your legs are.

You can think of the exam in 3 different sections:

  1. The nurse or doctor will lift the sheet and look at your vagina. This is called an inspection. They are looking for skin changes to the outside of your vagina. Don’t worry; not everyone’s vagina looks the same. The nurse or doctor is looking for any signs of STIs or other stuff that may affect your health.
  2. The nurse or doctor will use a tool called a speculum that will be inserted into the vagina.  The speculum is usually plastic and has some lube on it, so that it’s less uncomfortable when it’s placed into the vagina. The reason the speculum is inserted is because the nurse/doctor needs to view your cervix and take a sample of the cells there. There is a little wooden stick that is gently moved over the cervix so cells can be taken. There is also another tool that kind of looks like a pipe cleaner that captures cells too. If you are having an STI swab taken at the same time as the PAP, the tool used for that is like a super long q-tip. Taking samples of the cells in your cervix should not hurt, but some ladies do have a little bit of spotting (bleeding) afterwards. The part that ladies do not like the most is having the speculum inserted; it does feel a little weird, but shouldn’t hurt bad. The speculum only stays in for a few minutes, and then it is removed.
  3. The last part of the exam is called a “bimanual” exam. This means the nurse or doctor uses their hand to feel your cervix. Two fingers are inserted into the vagina, and the cervix is kind of tapped for a second or two to check for any tenderness. Then the nurse or doctor puts one hand on the lower belly and presses down while the fingers are still inserted, to check your uterus, and ovaries. This takes less than a minute, and then the nurse or doctors fingers are removed.

It is very normal to feel nervous or shy when you have this exam, but it really is super important to your health. Talk to your nurse or doctor about how you feel when you are at the clinic or nursing station. During the exam, you are the boss! If you want the nurse/doctor to slow down, stop for a minute, or stop altogether, just say the words. No one is going to get mad at you. You need to feel okay with having this personal kind of exam done.

Check out these links for more information: