2:00 pm - 02/15/2007

Scared of Pap Smears

EDITED: Thank you to everyone for your kind responses. You have been very helpful and I appreciate it.

Hi everyone,

I've resigned myself to the fact that a lot of people consider regular Pap Smears to be important, and I should probably go and get one. I've been reading about Cervical Cancer and Pap Smears to see what it's all about.

I really feel like I DON'T want to get one. When I read about what happens during a Pap Smear, I get really shaky, sick, my heart rate speeds up and I want to cry. I'm sure this is fear but I've never felt this way about a medical procedure before.

There's three real issues I have with it, that make me sick to my stomach when I think about it.

- I am really upset at the thought of putting my feet in stirrups. I find this horribly degrading and frightening.

- I don't want to have a metal instrument inserted into my vagina. My vagina is supposed to be a sacred part of being a woman, I find it really abusive, degrading and disrespectful to be putting a metal object up there.

- The only person to have anything to do with my vagina is my fiance, it's something special I share with him, I don't want anybody else to touch it - especially not in such a humiliating, degrading way.

I just don't want someone to do those things to me. At the thought of it, I feel humiliated, frightened and vulnerable.

I don't think it would help to tell me how bad Cervical Cancer is, because I'm so frightened of getting a pap smear, that I'm thinking I would rather take the risk than have one.

Is it normal to feel this way? If anybody has felt this way before, how did you get over it? The only things I can think of to combat this is to have a female doctor, and have my fiance in the room with me, but that's not enough.
moonglow_girl 15th-Feb-2007 03:26 am (UTC)
I never had to put my feet in any stirrups, just brought my legs up to my chest sort-of.

And we used plastic speculums.

Ask if you can do the aforementioned, and to use a plastic speculum instead.
lunarcapricorn 15th-Feb-2007 04:45 am (UTC)
I feel better already after hearing that.
cbackson 15th-Feb-2007 03:27 am (UTC)
I don't know if this will help at all, but maybe think about it this way: your vagina *is* a sacred part of being a woman to you, then taking the utmost good care of it is very important, and scary as it can be, a pap smear is part of that. You're not degrading or disrespecting yourself, but rather doing something very important for that part of you--to keep yourself healthy and whole.
violet_tigress1 15th-Feb-2007 04:18 am (UTC)
That'a very good way to look at it.
dama_imperfecta 15th-Feb-2007 03:32 am (UTC)
talk to your gyno, or even get a midwife who will come to your home. It may cost more but it make make it feel better for you. A plastic speculum can be used, and perhaps you can insert it yourself and even look around prior to your exam. I asked my midwife (who I see as a gyno) for a speculum and she let me have one so I can get more in touch with myself. Also, I don't use stirrups, I hold my legs, or perhaps your fiance can help with that. Also, remind yourself it is respect because you are taking care of your health.
so_says_ali 15th-Feb-2007 03:39 am (UTC)
It might be worth it to you to figure out why you feel that exams are abusive and degrading.
yogaswirl 15th-Feb-2007 03:52 am (UTC)
I agree. Learn more about why the Pap smear procedure is performed the way it is. The stirrups are to assist with positioning -- but there should be alternatives that a gynecologist or nurse practitioner should be able to recommend. The use of speculum is necessary to be able to see the cervix -- it is a sterile piece of medical equipment.

Do you have issues with using tampons? Sex toys? Your fingers/your fiance's fingers/tongue/penis?

sexxyful 15th-Feb-2007 03:53 am (UTC)
I barely felt my pap smear. It lasted about 1 minute. I actually laughed at myself afterwards for being so nervous. And anybody with cervical cancer will tell you that cancer is a hell of a lot worse than a pap smear. Pap smears are really no big deal.
lydia9679 15th-Feb-2007 04:02 am (UTC)
That's pretty much my sentiment. (It's no big deal.) Before my first gyno appointment, I was nervous about everyone in the room seeing way more of me than I'd ever shown any doctor since before I hit puberty. Once I got onto the exam table, it felt just like any other doctor was examining me, and whatever was happening was medically necessary for my continued health. Similar exams are also going to be necessary if you ever want to have children, and in my opinion having children is the most sacred and beautiful thing ever. Not degrading at all.
futuristicplans 15th-Feb-2007 03:55 am (UTC)
I was terrified to get my first one too. But my doctor put me at ease and it ended up feeling just like any other routine medical procedure. It didn't hurt at all, I was treated with the utmost respect and dignity, I didn't feel as exposed or self concious as I thought I would, and (because he's awesome) my doctor told me all kinds of neat stuff about my lady parts while he was doing the (very quick) procedure.

I went in all nervous and terrified, but came out with my mind at ease about my health and a handful of knowledge about how I work.

I'd talk to a gyno or one of the nurses about your fears... I'm sure you won't be the first. They can tell you more about it and offer options to make you more comfortable.
lunarcapricorn 15th-Feb-2007 04:59 am (UTC)
"I was treated with the utmost respect and dignity,"

That is very important to me. It's good to hear you had such a positive experience. Maybe if I find a doctor I trust, I can feel comfortable with her and know I will keep my dignity.
aranel 15th-Feb-2007 04:00 am (UTC)
If the idea of the metal speculum freaks you out, you might consider asking your gyn to use these: inflatable speculums.
You could even buy them yourself and provide them if your doctor doesn't have them.

Also, I know this might be unpopular, but from the research I've done it's my understanding that if you and your fiance were/are each other's first and only sexual partners (neither of you has had ANY genital contact with anyone else), your risk of cervical cancer is probably low enough that a Pap smear is not something you need to do often, if at all. (I am NOT a medical professional, however.)
sexxyful 15th-Feb-2007 04:11 am (UTC)
Pap smears aren't just for detecting cervical cancer though, so she should get them regularly.
livingat100mph 15th-Feb-2007 04:52 am (UTC)
i cried the first time too, i was SO nervous
but then again i thought
this doctor sees vaginas all the time, im not that special
this is no big deal

and i was fine.
loonylupinlover 15th-Feb-2007 05:24 am (UTC)
I agree that you may need to sit down and really think about what about a medical procedure makes you feel degraded. I understand feeling frightened of doctors, especially if they're doing a procedure you haven't undergone before, and on such a sensitive area, but feeling degraded and abused at the idea of a medical professional doing his/her job is something I don't understand.

As others have said, because your vagina is so important and sacred, it is vital for you to take good care of it. By allowing doctors to do their jobs -- making sure that you, their patient, remains healthy -- you are doing a wonderful service for your vagina.

As for your vagina belonging to only your fiance and you -- having a doctor examine it will not change that. You don't feel like your head is no longer yours if a doctor gives you an ear, nose, and throat exam, do you? Your vagina is still yours, and the aspects that make it a sacred thing -- its sexuality, its sensitivity, the role it plays within your relationship -- will remain with you and your boyfriend, because your doctor will be looking at anatomy -- not spirituality. He/she may ask about functionality, but only in terms of "Do you ever have pain during intercourse" or "What are your menstrual periods like?" They won't ask you, "So when was your last orgasm with the man you love, and give me all the details" or "Tell me the way you honor your vagina, so I can dishonor it." They are simply trying to ensure the health of a very important part of you -- there is nothing humiliating, degrading, or abusive about someone simply wishing, in a clinical fashion, to ensure your health.

I've had two or three vaginal exams so far, I think. I did have stirrups, but I didn't feel exposed because my hospital gown covered me to my knees. The speculum she used was metal, I believe, but it was dabbed with some kind of warming lubricant, and it actually felt rather pleasant, particularly with the lube. The speculum just felt a bit peculiar -- I think I thought, "Hey, that's a new feeling, weird." There was no pain of any kind. The doctor did not make any inappropriate comments. She told me what she was doing for each step of the exam (i.e. "I'm going to feel your cervix now" or "I'm inserting the speculum"), and told me how things looked. She was a calm, friendly lady and I did not feel uncomfortable.

There was absolutely no disrespect done to any part of me. On the contrary, I felt empowered because I knew I was taking an important step to taking care of my sexual health, and doing so on my own, as a grown woman, because my vagina is important.

Tell your doctor of your concerns before changing into your hospital gown. Ask for a small speculum and no stirrups. Bring your fiance to hold your hand. I think you'll be okay.
loonylupinlover 15th-Feb-2007 05:25 am (UTC)
Whoops, change "boyfriend" to fiance. My bad!
spacedlord 15th-Feb-2007 05:36 am (UTC)
if you had a sore throat and you went to the doctor, would you have a problem with him/her inserting a tongue depressor to see the back of your throat? it's the same idea with the speculum; it lets the doctor check your cervix to make sure that it is healthy and gives them a view so that when they scrape for cells, they are not poking around blindly [which would probably hurt a lot more].
the stirrups are not degrading [imo], they are there to help get you into a position where the doctor can see the cervix and vulva. and you're not in the stirrups for very long; five minutes for the smear and the manual.
i was terrified going into my first appointment, as no one had anything to do with my genitals but me up until that point. i found that having the doctor tell me everything that was going to happen in what order with my clothes on in her office, going into the room and having her talk to me as she did everything calmed me a lot. it helped me realize that this is no different from any other doctors visit. and once i did it the first time, i knew what it would be and while i still feel a little nervous before, i know that i feel better after being checked out.
and i agree with other posters that you should talk about this with someone, especially why you find medical attention so abusive and degrading. what's normal is different for everyone, but many people feel embarassed talking about their sex lives and genitals and the loss of clothing tends to leave most people feeling pretty vulnerable. as someone who worries a lot, it seems to me that you are picking out the worst and focusing on it. i apologise if i said that in a rude way, i've been thinking for the past twenty minutes trying to phrase that in a better way, but i couldn't manage without losing some of the meaning.
pezpyre 15th-Feb-2007 05:53 am (UTC)
I think for me it's just the act of exposing yourself...I guess I'm a goober, and I know I really should get my exam (since I'm sexually active, and over 18.) It's just really freaky for me...the entire process just seems really frightening.
rockstarbob 15th-Feb-2007 06:54 am (UTC)
It can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if it's your first time. Perhaps checking out some of the links/suggestions offered here would help? :)
lucidtheory 15th-Feb-2007 06:03 am (UTC)
It's worrisome that you consider the things that happen during a pap smear "degrading"... I think it is the OPPOSITE of degrading to get an exam that directly helps your vaginal health. Taking good care of your vagina inside and out is treating it sacredly. The whole exam process is a positive, helpful, empowering and potentially life-saving thing.
gemfyre 15th-Feb-2007 06:15 am (UTC)
Do they still use stirrups? I've never had to put my feet in stirrups (I've just been on a regular patient bed). I'm sure if you asked you wouldn't have to.

All the speculums I've had used on me have been plastic, but still it's the same thing. I'm quite experimental and have put many weird objects in me so it was nothing for me. Just remember that it's completely clean and clinical. (I'm actually worried about needing a full exam someday and having some doctors fingers in me).

As for the third point. I can understand the feeling that it should be a special thing to just share with your fiance.

Just remember that doctors/gynecologists do these tests day in day out. They don't see your vagina as a sexual object, just an organ that needs examining, like your heart or eyes or throat. Any good doctor will comfort you and answer any questions you may have. They'll be gentle and have it over and done with as quickly as possible, then you can get dressed again right away.
evr1bugsme 15th-Feb-2007 09:17 am (UTC)
I've found that remembering that it is "clinical" is a huge help. As stated above, it's a routine medical procedure, which you are in control of. As long as you are with a trusted professional (and not a bad doctor who doesn't listen to your concerns, bullies you through the process, degrades or undermines you before you even begin the exam, etc) it will be a clinical procedure and that only. To be comfortable I just get in that headspace, "nope, not the real world, it's doctor world where like five people walk by and look up into me and that's OK." Maybe that sort of detachment isn't ideal, but I've found it to be really helpful.

It's great that you've found a lot of the comments here helpful, I hope that assists you in becoming comfortable with going to the doctor. You can definitely find a practitioner who will take all of your concerns seriously and who will not touch you till they have helped you work through them or find ways to work around them. Practitioners like that exist, promise!
suicidekitty911 15th-Feb-2007 06:23 am (UTC)
the best advice i could give you is find a really good doctor. ask your female friends and relatives who their doctors are and get some recommendations.
but really, it's not that bad. and it's so important.
asscollection 15th-Feb-2007 06:48 am (UTC)
I read the above comments and some of your responses and I just wanted to ask--do you think you would feel somewhat better if your fiance accompanied you to the gynecologist's office? He could even come in the exam room with you and hold your hand.

And, like others have said: ask around for reccomendations. Best way to find docs. I hope things work out great! :)
rockstarbob 15th-Feb-2007 06:56 am (UTC)
In addition to that, she could call ahead and ask for a description of how that particular office/clinic does their pelvic exams--she could even ask whether or not stirrups or metal speculums are used, etc., and let them know her concerns in advance. Most of the time, health care professionals will be responsive to that sort of thing.
femmefaeryvixen 15th-Feb-2007 11:08 am (UTC)

I've had many pap smears, and I've never had to put my feet in stirrups, that seems a bit of a backdated practice in my opinion. I normally just put my legs up to my chest and then let my legs fall open. It's not especially dignified, no, but it's a hell of a lot better than being in stirrups. They tried to do this to me when I was in labour and I refused point blank. When a woman is feeling vulnerable, you need to do everything you can to make her feel more comfortable, not make her feel worse.

Can you get it done by a midwife/nurse/nurse practioner? I live in the UK, and I always get mine done by a female practice nurse. I've had an internal and speculum examination done by a male gyn once, and it was awful and I'd never go through it again. Ever. Period.

Midwives and nurses offices tend to have much more comfortable lighting than gyns offices too. If it helps (it helps me) ask to have your head raised rather than lying flat, so you can see what's going on. I also have a blanket covering me so I don't feel exposed.

You're right, your vagina is a beautiful and sacred thing, and I feel that part of feeling it is sacred and special is looking after it, and making sure that it stays as healthy as possible.

You can use plastic speculums too, these definitely feel softer and less intrusive. My nurse puts her gloves on, rubs the plastic speculum to warm it a little and then lubes up the speculum with KY, so it doesn't hurt any more than a penis would. Most gyns/nurses offices carry both plastic and metal speculums. Where I live, you can get plastic resuable speculums, or metal one use disposable speculums. I willingly accept the minutely increased risk of germ transmission in order to have a much more comfortable pap experience.

I agree with what a lot of others have said. Ask around (get at least three recommendations). Phone ahead and ask for a detailed explanation of their pap smear procedure.

Gyns and nurses are professionals, and I am sure if you find a good one they will do their utmost best to make sure you are comfortable.
br0ken_dolly 15th-Feb-2007 12:33 pm (UTC)
it's interesting to hear all these women who haven't had the stirrups experience! i've never been able to avoid it.

i really feel your pain. i had my first pap at 19 or 20, and (i know this isn't going to help you) they haven't gotten much easier. it's better now that i at least know what to expect, but it doesn't change the fact that i feel dirty and gross after. (i know a lot of women totally disagree and they think it's no big deal, but that hasn't been my experience.)

however, maybe this will put you at ease:

ive only had a metal speculum used once, and it was during a medical procedure. all the other times they were plastic, and the doctors were very cool about it, even warning me that as they open it, it's going to make a horrible sounding click that's going to sound much worse than it feels. (they were right.)

most sets of stirrupts i've used were covered in some kind of sock or bright colored cover. also, most of the doctors i've been to don't even pull them out until i'm laying down, so i don't even have to see them. (i feel sorta like i'd be going to my own death march if i put myself on the table with everything out in the open...maybe it's just me.)

i've always been treated with lots of respect and dignity, even when i've been to a free clinic for std testing. the first pap i ever had, the doctor came in before i even undressed and talked to me about the procedure and put me about a millimeter more at ease. (my blood pressure was through the roof when the nurse took it, too... when the procedure was all done, the doctor retook it just be sure it was nerves and not medical, and sure it enough, it came down a lot. still high, and i was still worked up, but it was better.)

the other thing is that even though what you share with your fiance is loving and intimate, what you'll share with your doctor is strictly business, so to speak. your doctor just wants to make sure you're healthy so you can continue to be close to your fiance.

when you go, be sure to let the doctor know it's your first pap. if it's a doctor you havent met before, if i were you i would hold off on getting undressed even... it makes me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable to be without clothing for a new doctor, so i generally refuse until i meet them in person.

remember: you have the right to refuse anything, and if at any point you are uncomfortable, do NOT hesitate to tell them to stop. then they can reposition, slow down, or just talk to you about why you're uncomfortable.

you can do it though :)
nildro 15th-Feb-2007 12:49 pm (UTC)
Your entire body is beautiful and sacred. Not just your vagina.
Sometimes keeping our bodies healthy involves getting a doctor to examine us. While this is uncomfortable from time to time (ever gotten a strep test? Blech!), we only do it because we respect our bodies.

I'm glad you have so much respect for your body. It's a wonderful thing to have. But don't let that respect keep you from making the right choices for your body and yourself.

I like to bring a stress ball with me to gyno exams. (I also really don't like other people down there). It helps. And most gyno's are very aware of how uncomfortable the situation is for many women and try to compensate by being very kind and treating their patients with respect. You should be fine :)
kaelstra 15th-Feb-2007 02:05 pm (UTC)
I really don't think the stirrups and such are meant to be degrading. It really is just the easiest way to be able to let the doctor see what he/she is doing. The same applies to a medical instrument being used to examine you-it's not meant to degrade you or anything.

Unfortunately, part of being a grown woman means taking care of your sexual health-and in the case of being a woman, that means someone else is going to need to peek into your vagina from time to time to make sure it's healthy. Since it's such a sacred thing for you, you'd definitely want to take good care of it, right? :) Hey look at the bright side-we don't have to get a finger up our butts like the guys do at their exams! :)

Honestly, since you have so much anxiety over it, perhaps talk to a doctor about a prescription of Xanax? I have severe medical anxiety when it comes to surgeries and related things, so she gave me a few Xanax to take to relax me a lot before any medical procedure.
elettaria Total essay here!15th-Feb-2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
I'm in the UK and I don't think I've ever had to put my feet in stirrups, despite having had umpteen gynae exams, a few smear tests, two IUD insertions and two cervical polyps removed. The norm at the moment appears to be to ask the woman to put her feet together, sole to sole, and let her knees fall apart. It's not the most dignified thing, lying there in a funny position with half your clothes off, but then going to the toilet isn't dignified either, nor are many other medical procedures, and dentistry is usually far worse than gynae stuff. A sensitive doctor or nurse should make you feel comfortable, many of them chat away. In fact, during my second polyp removal the doctor started asking me questions (I think about my sex life, something relevant anyway) and I asked her to stop as I was trying not to clench up (I don't like gynae procedures, who does) and couldn't concentrate, and she said that she was trying to distract me! For my IUD insertions, they had a nurse there whose main job was to hold my hand and chat to me and distract me, which was really helpful. When you book the smear test, say that it's your first time and you're nervous, I'm sure they'll be able to organise something soothing. You don't need to worry about saying it, it's not like you're revealing anything deeply personal (they already know that you're having a smear test) and most women loathe these tests, they'll be very understanding. The tests I've had have always been in a suitably wimminy environment, conducted by female doctors or nurses who were very much treating me woman-to-woman, aware that they were dealing with something intimate and making an effort to make me comfortable. Maybe bring your fiance or a friend to hold your hand, or at the least wait outside but generally be there for you. They'll probably be using their standard type of speculum so I doubt they'll change that for you (they're frequently plastic anyway), but you can ask them to run it under the hot tap so that it's more comfortable. There's nothing intrinsically degrading about a speculum, just as there's nothing degrading about a toothbrush. Make a big effort to relax, concentrate on your breathing and try to consciously relax the muscles in your pelvic region.

Yes, you need to have a smear test if you're sexually active, even lesbians are recommended to get them these days. I had cervical polyps (growths that turned out to be benign but were both removed) picked up during mine, though as far as I know I don't have HPV.

If you haven't been tested for HPV, I'm afraid there's no 100% guarantee that you're HPV-free. A lot of people are unaware that their partners are cheating on them (even marriage is no guarantee of fidelity), and even if their partners are being faithful, that doesn't necessarily mean that their partners' former partners were. I'm pretty sure that I'm safe from STIs, since I'm in a monogamous relationship (and while I've been surprised by infidelity before, I learnt a lot from that and I am positive that this one is not cheating on me nor going to), I've been tested since previous partners (they test you at the drop of a hat these days and quite right too, the last time was when I had the IUD inserted but I was extensively screened after the unfaithful ex), and my partner has only had one previous sexual partner, who had had no partners before him and with whom he did not have penetrative sex. So yes, there is still the possibility that my partner could be lying about something (incredibly unlikely) or that his ex-boyfriend could be (seems very unlikely, but I'm getting that second-hand so it's riskier). I asked the Family Planning Clinic about this risk level when I got the IUD and they said that anything that could be passed between two men having non-penetrative sex (not a huge amount, and they were both meant to be each other's first sexual partners) would have shown up by now, it's several years later, so I didn't fret. Anyway, my point is that STI risk is a lot more complex than just saying "I'm engaged/married", though of course most people who think their partners are being faithful are absolutely right.
elettaria Essay cont'd15th-Feb-2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
If you don't mind my pointing this out, you're applying a bit of a double standard, at least if, as I assume, you allow doctors to touch other parts of your body. You are considering your vagina to be sacred to sexuality and something that only you and your fiance can touch. However, the vagina is not the only sexual part of your body. Do you consider all touch to be sexual? Many couples like nibbling each other's ears as part of sexual play; would you consider it sexual if a doctor looked down your ear to check for an ear infection? Obviously a vagina is more devoted to sexuality, but that's not the only thing about it. A vagina is also what babies travel through, and that's not sexual. (Incidentally, if you ever have children you'll have to put up with quite a lot of pushing and poking in that area from doctors, and I understand that childbirth involves a lot of features that aren't precisely sacred, from needing to shave pubic hair to what happens with your bowels.) Bodies need upkeep and some of the upkeep deals with more intimate areas than others, but we just have to grin and bear it and put up with our bodies being medicalised at times. Personally I'd take ten gynae exams over one visit to the dentist. It won't be fun, but hopefully it won't be too bad, it'll be over quickly and you'll probably feel a lot better once it's over, since it sounds like one of those cases where the worst thing is the anticipation and fear of the unknown.
lunarcapricorn Re: Essay cont'd19th-Feb-2007 03:48 am (UTC)
Thank you, your response was very helpful. I am feeling better about the situation.
rearrangedfaith 15th-Feb-2007 08:32 pm (UTC)
i was terrified to get one too. i waited until last fall (4 years after i was first sexually active) because of it.

i was shaking and nauseated before i went in.. totally freaked out.

but it wasn't scary at all, after it started.

i thought she'd use a metal speculum, which grossed me out..

but she used a plastic disposable one.

i didn't use stirrups either. i think i would have found that incredibly degrading too.

unless your doctor is an asshole, he/she will do as much as possible to make your experience comfortable.
marionravenwood 16th-Feb-2007 11:11 am (UTC)
Regardless of whether you are able to get a pap smear, get the HPV vaccine.
pip3r 3rd-Mar-2007 03:16 am (UTC)
I cried my first time. I was so scared.

The second time was so much better because the doctor knew about my past of abuse, and she listened, and helped talk me through it.

It's not degrading, it's something that can help save your life. To me degrading would be if someone did that to you on the street, or molested you while on the table.

It seriously takes less than a minute. You can also get plastic speculums, and my doctor uses lots of KY and she has a heated drawer on the bottom of the table. She makes sure to talk me through each step, each time, so that helps.

Plus, I know this is a few weeks late too, my boyfriend goes with me each time. He's the only guy I've been with, he also knows about my past, and he's a huge source of comfort for me.
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