What to Expect and How to Prepare When Getting a Pap Smear

Patient Expert

A pap smear is a useful tool, but it’s important to remember it only detects cervical cancer, a health issue related to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Pap smears are NOT a test for sexually transmitted diseases. If you think you’re at risk, you’ll need to request an STD test during an annual checkup.

Most women start receiving pap smears around the age of 21. It was once recommended that women receive pap smears ever year, now doctors prefer every three years. One of my doctors says women were being over treated for HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most times, an HPV infection goes dormant on its own without treatment.

How to prepare for your appointment

There’s no need to shave your lady parts for a visit to the gynecologist. Your doctor has seen all types of vaginas, including ones with hair. While for some having pubic hair is a hygiene concern, it in no way affects testing, since the doctor is looking inside you, anyway.

Medline Plus suggests it is best to wait until after your period is finished before receiving a pap smear. Menstrual blood can cause the test results to appear abnormal. Plus I imagine it can be a bit messy. Some women do go near the end of their menstrual cycle when the bleeding is light.

If you do decide to go during this time, do not use a tampon within 24 hours of your visit, and wear a pad to your appointment. It is also recommended that you don’t douche or have intercourse within 24 hours of your appointment, which can also cause results to come up as false positive.

What to expect once you arrive

An intake at the gynecologist is similar to one you will have with any type of doctor. The office will provide you with paperwork to fill out, including a series of questions about your health. It may also take your blood pressure, temperature, and weight. You will then be taken to the examination room, where the nurse may ask you additional questions. Usually there are two people in the room with you during the examination, a doctor and a nurse.

You will usually be asked to get fully undressed, provided a gown, and a cover-up for your legs. During this time the doctor will also check your breast for abnormal lumps. Some offices only require you to get undressed waist down. You will lie down on the procedure table legs apart, and feet resting in stirrups.

The doctor will place an instrument called a speculum inside of your cervical canal to open up the vagina so that your cervix can be scraped for cells. The test only lasts a few moments. It’s uncomfortable but usually not painful. You may see some blood spotting after the test, which is normal. Receiving results usually takes three to five days.

If you are a virgin, do you still need a pap smear?

Dr. Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso at the Mayo Clinic writes that a test can be recommended, even for virgins, depending on a patient’s family history of cancer and smoking habits. Others ask whether receiving a pap smear will tear the hymen, a thin piece of membrane. According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, “if done gently, with a small speculum (which is inserted into the vagina to open it for the Pap smear), then it won't tear your hymen.”

See more helpful articles:

When Your Pap Smear is “Abnormal”

10 Things You Should Know About HPV

10 Things You Need to Know About STDs

The State of Sexual Health Education for Kids: A Parent's Guide


Genital HPV Infection Fact Sheet: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm

Do Virgins Need Pap Smears?: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pap-smear/expert-answers/pap-smear/faq-20057782

The Hymen http://www.pamf.org/teen/health/femalehealth/hymen.html

Pap Test https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003911.htm

Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog which highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood, through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. She is currently a post-bach student at Georgia State University pursuing a career as a Physician's Assistance—her passions are dermatology and sexual health. Alisha also shares her passion as a Social Ambassador of the Psoriasis HealthCentral Facebook page where she shares timely tips, stories and insights on living with psoriasis. You can also find Alisha on Twitter.