Cervical Screenings: Breaking the Stigma

Hey pals,

Boy oh boy have a got a big one for you today! I recently got my first ever cervical screening. It was a bit of a difficult process because I got my letter 6 months early and confused all my GP surgery staff when I came in with it to try and book. I managed to finally book it just over a month before my 25th birthday (can’t imagine having to get this done actually on or around that time, no thank you) and I was feeling pretty confident, everyone I had spoken to had all said it’s just uncomfortable and I am used to being uncomfortable.

I met my nurse and she asked me a selection of questions like if I’m on contraception, what kinds (I told her the pill and also I am just literally not having sex haha), where in your cycle you are etc. and asked if I wanted talking through it. See, I mostly knew what was going on, but I asked her to talk me through anyway just in case there was something I was missing. The one thing that did make be feel a bit anxious was the shape and look of the swab! It looks hard and spikey, but I didn’t actually feel the swab at all. Basically, they lube up the duck beak (that’s not what it’s called but it makes me laugh), slide it in, open you up and swab.

So, I undressed my bottom half, got on the bed, covered myself with the funny bit of tissue sheet bedding she gave me and got into position. You cross your ankles over each other and let your knees drop outwards. They may also need you to put your hands under your hips to tilt your pelvic for better access (which I had to do).


So this next bit isn’t fun and might scare some of you, but keep in mind this is not always the case. The insertion was okay, but was a bit painful up near my cervix and I wasn’t sure it should feel that way, so I did tell her it hurt. She opened the doo-hicky and it really hurt for me and I was very verbal about it letting her know it was more than just uncomfortable. She asked me what should she do, should she just get it done with and I said yes, best not to prolong this! She did cause some bleeding which is nothing to worry about and reasonably common, I wasn’t able to tell her where I would be in my cycle due to being on a pill that stops my period so she explained she may have triggered a period. As I said above, I didn’t feel the swab itself and this may be due to the pain I was in. But once she swabbed, it was over and done and I could leave. It was less than 5 minutes, about 1 minute in actual pain (I do think she could have maybe opened the duck beak a little slower so I could prepare and get used to it but that’s neither here nor there…), she did explain to me that most people who go in for their screening find it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be and I’m just unlucky as usual. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to relax into it more now I know what to expect (I also think I could have done with going to the loo before hand for a quick wee so maybe I was more tense because of that???)

Now my reason for writing about this is because not many people go and get themselves screened. It’s really important you go and get this done every three years. I’ve been corrected on a point that there is no genetic or hereditary link to cervical cancer, I’ve only just been told this by the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, even my GP surgery continues to talk about genetic links as a reason to be tested which is somewhat worrying. Have a read here for more about causes of cervical cancer.

And I want this to go out to my LGBT+ family (trans men, nonbinary people, lesbians who don’t like dildos/penetration) because I understand this is or can be dysphoria inducing but until you reach a certain age or get a hysterectomy, it’s important to check you don’t have any cancer cells! If you don’t get tested regularly, you may find out too late and more damage could be done to your body that could have been caught much sooner!

I also want to reach out to those who have been traumatized by sexual abuse or assault. I want you to know I understand that you’re scared or anxious about this and you are valid. These are health professionals, they are only doing this for your benefit and your health, take someone in with you if you’re really struggling, maybe even discuss with a GP or the nurse your concerns and they can help you feel better about it, but it is important for you to get done.

It was thanks to Melanie Murphy that I was aware the duck beak might hurt as she had her screening recently (on her 30th birthday, how responsible) and talked about her mild form of vaginismus which is the automatic tightening of your vagina when something is trying to be inserted. I think I may have a mild form of this myself and would explain the pain and discomfort I felt. It’s important to educate yourself on this if you have it and be aware that a screening may hurt, but it won’t be for long and you can get through it!

Disclaimer: it is possible that they may not get enough cells to test and may need to call you back. This is rare, and they don’t often talk about this possibility, but it’s important to know that it can happen and be aware!

Some advice in preparation for a cervical screening:

  • figure out how to relax ‘down there’. The best way to figure out which muscles you’re using is to go to the toilet for a pee and stop yourself mid flow. Those are the muscles you need to learn to relax!
  • take a pad with you! Not a tampon! I don’t have issues with using tampons but due to how painful and uncomfortable it was for me, I CAN’T IMAGINE sticking a tampon up there after! So bring a pad in case of bleeding!
  • bring someone with you if you’re really worried about it, you’re allowed someone to come into the room with you.
  • Wear comfy, easy to remove, clothes.

I hope this has helped explain what happens and talked a little about having a Bad Time TM during it (it really isn’t common to have a bad time like I did so please do not worry!) and I do urge everyone to start talking about it with friends and family. If you know anyone who is due or who has never had one, please urge them to go and maybe even offer to go with them (at least to the doctors office, they may not want you in the room!) and show support! We have to break the stigma around this and make it more comfortable and accessible!

Breaking News! I’m editing this 16/07/2020 because I found out recently there will be a new way of testing coming that it much less invasive! Dr. Kate Nambiar replied to my tweet wishing there was a better way to conduct cervical screenings, saying, “That’s coming soon. You’ll be able to test yourself using a small swab (bit like doing an STI test). It’s not available yet in the UK for the NHS but we hope that it will be soon.” And she linked me to an article all about it on Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s charity website. If you want to read on, follow the link here. I love that this is going to be a possibility, as it will be a lot more manageable for all the groups of people I’d mentioned above. Fingers crossed it’ll get here soon!

~ Artie

13 thoughts on “Cervical Screenings: Breaking the Stigma

  1. Thank you! As I said in my post I think I have something undiagnosed that makes me automatically tense up. Inserting was fine but it did hurt a little. It was when she opened it that it really hurt, I think maybe she opened it too fast ?
    But yes that’s entirely why I wanted to document it, especially since it did hurt, sometimes we have to be uncomfortable or in pain to make sure we are healthy and okay! I have a needle phobia but have to get regular bloods done because of a medication I’m on! We just have to get on with it haha x

  2. Thank you ! That’s interesting I don’t know much about America’s health system! We used to have them start at 21 or if you have had certain cancers in the family but the age is now 25 but I wanted it out of the way so managed to get it a bit over a month early haha. That’s good they’ve caught abnormalities early! That’s the whole point isn’t it 🙂 I’m grateful we have it on the NHS !

  3. For some reason I really like reading people’s accounts of their cervical screenings – I think because it’s such an important thing to encourage people to do, and the more people who document it, the better! I’m sorry yours was a bit painful, that sucks – but I’m pleased you stuck it out. When I had mine last year I didn’t experience any pain, but I was so tense to begin with that the nurse couldn’t actually insert the duck beak, and even after she could I kept uncontrollably flinching. Oh well…

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I hope it will encourage many more cervix-owning folk to get themselves checked.

  4. Congratulations on your first smear! I’m sorry yours was so painful and uncomfortable, but I’m so proud that you went and got it done! I’ve gotten so many (in the States, we usually start going early, especially if you’re on the pill or you’re “active”) that it’s just kind of normal by now, but it’s never comfortable or fun. And I love your description of the speculum as a duck bill! That’s so spot on! And I much prefer the plastic ones they use. I’ve had the metal ones used on me and they’re SO COLD down there! Ugh! But thank you for spreading awareness about screenings. Thanks to screenings, my doctors have caught some irregular cell formations and have treated me for them. I’m really grateful my insurance covers my visits!

    Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

  5. I was really surprised by it – I had only really heard painful stories! It really does, for me, it sorta reminds me of that episode of Friends where Ross picks one up and starts making it speak!

  6. Thank you! I want to break the stigma and open the conversation and it’s so nice to see many people saying they used to fear it but no longer do! I think that will help others feel better about it!

  7. I’m glad you went ! And thank you so much! I’ve talked to friends of mine about it and lots of them are very anxious about it so I really wanted to make a post! Even though it was very painful for me it’s not normally for other people and I want everyone to know that! Also I think calling it a duck beak helps you break some inner tension :’)

  8. This is such an important post! I also call that instrument a duck beak 🤣, it is just perfectly fitting for it. Reading this posts sounds like you are describing my exact experience, even down to the weird little bit of tissue you put over yourself. I recently (like a week ago) went for my first test and I’m still waiting for the results! I was expecting it to be a lot more painful than it was and was really relieved when I managed it… I put it off for like 9 months before booking but it was good to go and actually get it over with – such an important test and a friendly nurse really does help a lot! x

  9. Really interesting to hear your experience of a cervical smear. So many people fear them, I used to be one!

  10. I understand why you’re torn and that’s why I posted this to open the conversation! You obviously have time to feel more comfortable with the idea of it, and I do recommend taking a trusted friend or family member with you if you need a bit of support! Also talking to the health professional who is doing is important ! It’s very short and reasonably quick so even if you can gather up the courage for a short while to get through, at least it’ll be done and you’ll know what it’s like for next time 🙂 I hope when the time comes it goes well for you! 💖

  11. Thank you for sharing this! I’m only recently turned 23 so my first is still a bit away, but I’m torn between being terrified because trauma, and eager because I’m such a hypochondriac. It’s important we keep the conversation open, and I hope you’re next isn’t so bad.

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