Smear tests aren't particularly fun, but they're an essential part of being a woman. As soon as you hit the ripe old age of 25, you should be called in to your registered GP surgery for essentially what is a check-up on your womanly health. These check-ups need to take place every three years to ensure any abnormalities are identified and treated as swiftly as possible, avoiding the horrendous circumstances that lead to Jade Goody's (among many others) premature death. Scientific evidence has shown that if women are screened every three years, more than 90% of pre-cancer cases are picked up - that hugely increases any woman's chance of leading a happy, healthy, problem-free life, so why are smear tests actually on the decline in the UK? Why are so many women scared of a simple, painless and quick procedure that (put simply) could possibly save their life?

With a history of abnormalities, colposcopies and invasive treatments in my family (my Mum, Aunt and Nan have all been in and out of hospital with gynecological issues over the last thirty years,) I know that a regular smear test is vital for any issues to be caught and dealt with swiftly. But in 2015 there are still thousands of young girls and women that are simply cacking their pants about an impending smear test, putting it off and working themselves up into such a state that they're petrified by the time that they step through the surgery door. After discussing this on Twitter, I decided to speak openly about my experiences and explain exactly what happens in the hope of helping a few others feel a little more comfortable with the prospect. This may not be relevant to everybody (in fact I'm sure the majority of readers have already experiences a smear,) but if it helps one more woman pluck up the courage to book an appointment - my job here is done.

What tools do they use during the procedure? 
A smear test involves two things: a plastic pair of forceps and a little plastic brush. Each time a smear test is conducted the nurse will use a brand new set, fresh out of the sterile packaging. The forceps are used to open the cervix so the little brush can retrieve a sample for testing; because no cervix is ever the same, there are a variety of sizes of forcep to make the procedure as quick and easy as possible. Your nurse will start with the 'average' size (which tends to be best for the majority of people,) moving up or down if required. Although there are horror stories about metal clamps and sitting with your legs akimbo, this is a really old fashioned way of administering a smear - in 2015, it's a lot less surgical and as simple as getting your jabs.

What actually happens during a smear test?
The whole process takes about three minutes from beginning to end. You remove your knickers and jump up on the examination bed, either lifting your knees or sitting in a frog position to give the nurse the best view and access point. (This may sound cringey, but if you wear a skirt you can't even see what she's up to - lie back and think of Ryan Gosling!) The nurse will use a small about of lubricant on the forceps and insert them into your vagina, opening them slowly to allow her to find your cervix and take a sample. Once she's found the right point, the little brush is used to swish around inside and take a sample of cells for testing. As soon as the brush is covered (usually about five quick swirls) the forceps are removed and you can pop back on your underwear... That's literally it!

Does a smear test hurt? 
No, not at all. You may experience a little discomfort from the pressure of the forceps widening inside, or even a little tickle from the brush, but there is no pain whatsoever. I can assure you (if you've never experienced one before,) that after your smear you'll wonder what all the fuss was about. The key thing is to relax as much as possible and the procedure will take seconds.

How often should I go for a smear test? 
Your first smear test should happen when you reach 25; the reason it's no lower is because historically the smears were picking up on abnormalities that were just a result of the body changing and continuing to develop.  After your first one you should pop back in every three years for another check-up - your doctor should send you a reminder letter, but if not make sure you know when you're due another test and book an appointment regardless.

Are there any side-effects?
You may experience slight period cramps or spotting for 24hrs afterwards, which is perfectly normal. This is simply because you've been prodded at a bit inside and your lady parts are delicate and sensitive. Other than that you wouldn't even know you'd had anything done.

How long will it take to get the result? 
Within two weeks you should receive a letter through the post confirming the results. If your test comes back as normal then you don't have to do anything at all. If your test shows abnormalities, then you'll be asked to pop back for a colposcopy at the hospital; this is simply a closer look inside your cervix with a microscope and isn't anything to worry about at that stage.

What happens if the results come back with 'abnormalities'?
There are two types of abnormalities - cells that are pre-cancerous and have the potential to develop into something more serious, as well as cells that will simply return to normal without any treatment whatsoever. An abnormal result doesn't mean cancer. An abnormal result doesn't even necessarily mean you've got pre-cancerous cells. An abnormal results simply means there's something worth having anther look at.

What tips would you give me for my first time? 
1. Wear a skirt or a dress so you feel less 'exposed' and nervous. If you have to wack off your trousers and literally lie on a table half-naked, then you're going to feel uncomfortable; if you wear a dress or a skirt you won't be able to see anything and you'll feel a lot more covered.
2. Relax, don't panic and if you want to ask questions then ask: the nurses are used to seeing young women for their first appointment so they're happy to chat or take the time to explain and make you feel comfortable. The more tense you are the longer it will take her to get her plastic forceps in, which is actually what takes the time.
3. If you're nervous about getting your lady bits out in front of a stranger, take the time to have a little trim and pamper before your appointment. The nurses see thousands of naked bits a year so they don't even pay attention, but it will make you feel more comfortable and confident.

Smear tests really aren't scary and are literally over in a few minutes. I was in and out of my appointment in twelve minutes, and at least eight of those were me chatting away to the nurse and asking questions. Personally I find going for a smear test the most easy appointment at the doctor, because most surgeries know it's not particularly fun and make every effort to make it as painless as possible. If you're really worried you can ask for a friend or family member to come with you, but after you're back in your knickers you'll probably feel like a donut - it really isn't anything to worry about at all. I hope this helps even a couple of people to really understand what a smear test is all about and answers a few bubbling questions. If you have any further questions, please don't hessitate to leave a comment (anonymous if you need to!) and I'll do my best to answer.

For more information have a look at the NHS website: www.mysmeartest.co.uk
There are some useful FAQs here: www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/cervical/faqs.html

Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.  


  1. Well done! This is something every female should read and not ignore! xx

  2. Sophie x9.8.13

    This is a really fab post! I had my first smear 2 years ago and I was so nervous because of the horror stories people tell you. Really wasn't horrific at all, was over in minutes and I didn't experience any pain!
    It does help that my nurse is the nicest lady ever and I feel really comfortable around her.
    The more ladies that are told it's not painful the better as too many don't get checked and it's soooo important!
    Thanks :-)

  3. Great post and very well explained. You've done a fab job and hope this helps all those women out there to feel more confident about getting their smear tests done.
    Thanks for sharing :) x

  4. Excellent post! I actually have my smear (horrible term I think) this afternoon . It's so so important to highlight the need to go and also to dispell the many myths and horror stories surrounding it! Also, here is Scotland we are called for cervical smears from the age of 20 so I've already had a couple which have been absolutely fine! It's important to remember that the nurses see lots of ladies bits every day, so there is no need to feel embarrassed :)

  5. Great post although I still find it shocking that you need to be over 25 for a smear test in the UK in NZ you're asked to do them from the time you're sexually active. 25 is too late for some people

  6. Great post. I had my first when I was 22 and they found some abnormal cells. If I had put off going to the doctors I don't know where I would be at 28 today! Don't be afraid of smears or any gynaecological treatment. It is never as bad as you imagine!


  7. I asked the nurse why it was 25 in the UK and she explained it used to be 18, but because the tests were picking up abnormalities that were just part of the body changing they stopped it. They were apparently putting people through unnecessary treatments and procedures for cells that may not even be a problem. She seemed pretty sincere about this, so I guess there are positives/negatives from both perspectives. I do believe you can still have one earlier if you request one.

  8. This is such an informative post, I always get people asking me about my smear test (I'm from Sotland so I got mine at 20) and they always seem so worried. I found mine to be fine, I barely felt a thing. This will definitely help a lot of girls xx

  9. Great post! Thanks for sharing!
    I never new what quite happened in a smear test.. Thanks..

    Hugs, Brittany, xx

  10. I think because I live in a borough with high rates of teen sexual activity/pregnancy within London, we are actually screened from 21 onwards (or so the nurse told me), whereas my friend who lived just a mile away, had to wait until 25, because she wasn't considered to live in an at risk borough - madness!
    I can see why people do fear these things though, the first smear test that I received I was in agony and when I pointed it out to the practice nurse she said "oh it looks like I'm pinching you with the forceps internally, it happens sometimes..." just like that, super casual - IDIOT. The fact that she informed me that it'd be more uncomfortable because they'd run out of lubricant too didn't help - but I could hardly say "oh if you'd told me I'd have brought my own" - I doubt it's a BYOL (bring your own lube) situation.

    However, that being said, a few seconds (worst case scenario) of unpleasantness isn't going to stop me from going back, and the likelihood of it happening in the first place is minute.
    Great post! xx

  11. Nice to see those cold metal things have been replaced with plastic. Its not something you look forward to getting done, but its an important part of your self-care. Great post.


  12. BlushCrush - sounds like you had a horrendous experience! That could put people off going back. Glad it didn't deter you though. Maybe the nurse needs more training?!

  13. This is such a good blog post; something ALL women should read and never be scared of. After all it saves lives!! I remember as a child hearing all these horror stories, ie ''It's an egg spatula'' and etc, and I was a little scared. But I just bluntly asked my mum, who explained it all to me. Scared thoughts = straight out the window :)

    PS: Apologies to be 'nit picky', but the clear instrument is a Speculum. Forceps are what is used to help get babies out! :)

  14. thank you so much for this post! It's super important that anyone who is coming up to be eligible for smear tests (or even those who are and are just too scared to go) knows what it entails and what they're actually for.

    I didn't actually know the test existed until Jade Goody became ill. We really need to lift the lid on health and self-care.

  15. I don't know if the States are behind the curve or something, but I've been forced to have regular PAP tests since I was about 17 because I have PCOS - the major treatment of PCOS is birth control pills - and in the state of Florida, if you take bc, you have a PAP every year. Long story way short - for me, it hurts like an absolute mother.

  16. Thanks for all your comments people - I really appreciate them.
    And, interesting you call it a Speculum... My nurse called them forceps! (Maybe she had a lisp?!)

  17. People; you don't need to wait until the age of 25 to get tested, you can request a smear at any point in time above the age of 18!

    I've had about 5+ smear tests and I'm 25. I lived in Wales when I went to Uni and they start at 21 there, so went along for my appointment. It's not the nicest thing to happen to you, but it's over in minutes and doesn't hurt. It's more awkward having a stranger being in such an intimate place, but you need to put that aside to deal with this as a medical necessity.

    I think it's too much of a taboo subject to discuss and I really wish it was part of sex education during school. Or even some ad campaign to really get women to take note on how important it is and not to be embarrassed.

    Great post Hayley! xo

    Adrienne | Late Night Nonsense | Bloglovin'

  18. I think a lot of the issue is that GPs tend not to let you book an appointment before 25 in the UK without a really good reason. I completely understand why they say before then it may pick up on things and create unnecessary panic, but I think if you have a family history or are worried there's no harm whatsoever in talking to someone about an early test.

  19. I turned 28 last month so went for my second smear. Great idea writing this post as it would be good to read this before your first time :)

    I didn't wear a dress/skirt but the nurse gave me a sheet of paper (like kitchen roll) to place over myself so I guess that's a similar idea :)

    Like you say, it isn't painful, just slightly uncomfortable but nothing to be scared of at all. I hope this post encourages lots of women to go and get tested xx

  20. Jo's Trust has excellent reliable information on smear tests, abnormalities and the rest. A smear test saved my life, please don't ignore the need to have one. http://www.jostrust.org.uk/about-cervical-cancer/cervical-screening-smear-test-and-abnormal-cells/cervical-screening-smear-test/faq-cervical-screening

  21. Such a great post and really informative. I am 20 and live in Scotland so I am due my first smear this year. Your post has made it seem much less scary and pushed me to just book my appointment and get it done!



  22. I saw a BBC documentary not long ago about those younger than 25 being asked to have a smear test because they're high risk patients or have symptoms that need checking. Lots of the laboratories either refuse to process the tests of women under the age of 25 or they send the results back as negative even if they found something questionable. I can't tell you how awful I think that is!!
    It said that the age change was because risk of cancer is much lower until 25, but I'm sure there were many reasons for the change.
    I would go for every test if I was allowed to have them, even if they just made it voluntary for 18-25 or even 23-25 as I think it's so important.

    I don't understand at all the women that don't go- down here we're encouraged to have Sti and Std checks every 6 months (which is a bit much) but if you can manage one of them every so often, and know its not fun lying there in stirrups but its quick and painless, then you can manage to go every few years for something that could save your life!! x

  23. That's horrendous! I can't believe scientists would behave that way.

  24. Laura31.8.14

    Great post! For me the worst part is sitting in the waiting room before hand....once it's all over you remember it's really not that bad at all!

  25. Just came across this post and it's great! I'm only 19, but I've always worried about getting my first smear test. This has reassured me that there is nothing to worry about! I will definitely be wearing a dress/skirt, as you suggested! Thank you!x



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