Get smeared—what to expect when you get tested
By Andrea Arscott, Senior Columnist
If you’re already sexually active, you probably book a yearly physical, which includes a pelvic exam and swab tests, possibly a Pap smear (if you’re a woman), and if you request them, blood and urine tests to check for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, if you’re just starting to dabble in sexual delights and late night rendezvous at popular make-out spots, you may be wondering what to expect at the doctor’s office.
Doctors recommend women consult their doctor about getting a Pap smear once they become sexually active, or after the age of 21. Depending on your situation, the doctor will determine how often you should get a Pap, but generally women have one once every year or two. A pelvic exam and Pap smear do require you to undress, but this is done with the doctor and any other support staff out of the room—at the beginning of the exam you’ll be asked to change into a paper smock that you will wear for the duration. Upon re-entering, the doctor will instruct you to lie down on the table, bend your legs, and rest your heels in the metal stirrups at the end of the table.
The doctor wears gloves during the examination, so if you suffer from a latex allergy be sure to let them know before the exam begins.
Now, here comes the uncomfortable portion of the visit—just remember it may feel awkward or embarrassing to you, but doctors are professionals, and they’ve seen it all! Don’t be afraid to seek a female gynaecologist if you think that will make you more comfortable. The doctor will then look for signs of STIs, such as unusual discharge, sores, cuts, and/or genital warts. They will then use a large cotton swab to scrape the inside of the vagina or cervix for abnormal cells (cervical cancer or the human papilloma virus). This part of the exam is called the Pap. Then you’ll be swabbed for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, yeast, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis. Have no fear—the scraping doesn’t hurt, but a lot of the tools the doctor will use will be metal, so they might be cold or uncomfortable; it’s generally over fairly quickly though.
What physicians are unable to see are signs of those STIs that can only be detected through blood and urine tests. HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, and herpes are tested through blood, and chlamydia and gonorrhoea can also be tested through urine. Other STIs like genital warts can only be diagnosed by visual inspection if you have an outbreak. The more you know about the various STIs, the better you’ll be at getting doctors to test appropriately, so don’t be afraid to do some research!
An STI is not something you want to pick up, but if you catch one—like a swatter to a fly—zap it fast. If you think you have symptoms of an STI, get checked and treated. Don’t leave it! It’ll only get worse. If you have questions or concerns about symptoms or methods of prevention, don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss them. Other resources can include youth clinics if you’re under 21, or STI clinics if you’re over, and never forget the almighty Internet!—though you might not want to Google some of this stuff.