At approximately 24 and a half years old, I received the letter in the post that I had been dreading, ever since I knew what a smear test was. The fact that the letter used words like “invited” didn’t make it any more cutesy or appealing. The fact of the matter was, I was at the age where a doctor needed me to spread my legs on a table and look into my fanny. There’s no beating around the bush (pun intended) and no sugar coating it really. It was time for my very first smear test.

first smear test

I used to suffer with terrible health anxiety, so 6 years ago when I attended my first smear test, the anxiety was pretty overwhelming at times. I’ve since been for a colposcopy appointment and my second smear test and my nerves have calmed right down about it – I also don’t suffer with an anxiety disorder anymore so that helps!

But what I’m getting at is real and intense fear and anxiety around cervical screenings isn’t something to laugh or joke about. It can literally cause people not to attend their life-saving appointments and that’s the exact opposite of what we want. So if you’re about to attend a screening and your nerves are through the roof, know that it’s normal and your feelings are valid.

For more information of the importance of smear tests, check out Jo’s Trust Cervical Cancer Charity.

first smear test

My personal experience of my first smear test

Okay, so let’s skim past the boring stuff. I booked my appointment easily over the phone with the family planning doctor in my surgery. But you can see your nurse for your test, too. I told the receptionist I was scared so she wrote on my notes, “might not be brave enough to get it done today“. Which was actually very helpful.

I got to the doctors and despite being almost 25 at the time, my mum came with me. Made sure I had my Bach’s Rescue Remedy Spray (the herbal remedy I was using for anxiety at the time before I started Citalopram) and a cold bottle of water with me to calm me down, too. I wore a skirt as that makes the process a lot quicker and easier.

I was called into the room and first of all, my doctor looked so much like a slightly older version of Sarah Millican and was so bloody lovely that I think that’s what calmed my nerves so much. I found that I was actually more nervous about the whole thing in the morning – my appointment was at 5 – than I was siting in the waiting room. Strange.

So I finally got over how much I wanted to shout “Dairy Millican!” at her and she asked me if I was still on the pill, which I am and then demonstrated what the brush was going to do (a soft and gentle twirl around the base of the cervix) and showed me the brush itself. She let me feel it and honestly, it’s the softest plastic ever. And small. So any fears of a huge, metal scalpel about to claw away at my insides were gone.

She asked if I had any questions and I mentioned I was worried about the speculum hurting and if she was able to use a smaller one (they have smaller ones on hand – make sure you ask if you feel this would benefit you!) and she told me she always uses the small one anyway. Which was a relief.

She then let me get myself undressed and told me I could leave my skirt on and get comfy on the table. At this point she came back into the little side room armed with the speculum and I actually said, “is that it?!” The smaller one was a lot smaller than I expected so that put me right at ease. She covered it in a water based lubricant to make the entry a little easier.

first smear test

At this point she asks me what I do so I start rambling on until I realise she’s down at my bits putting the speculum in. It felt like a bit of a struggle at first – understandably because I’m not going to be naturally lubricated up and ready for action at a smear test but in it went. It was uncomfortable – especially being opened. But once it was actually open and staying open, it was fine. I just acclimatized to the uncomfortableness.

The worst part for me was the brush. It didn’t hurt at all; it wasn’t really even uncomfortable. I could barely feel it but it made me cringe. It was a weird, cringy feeling. She said I may feel some period type cramps when the brushing was being done but honestly, I didn’t notice any through my gritted teeth.

However the “brushing” literally lasted 7 seconds then the brush was out, the speculum was out (came out a lot easier than it went in lemme tell you) and she said it was done.

She let me get myself dressed and finished off the appointment telling me I’ll get results in the post and that I’m free to leave. She also gave me another 6 months prescription if my pill whilst I was there. I was pleasantly surprised that I got no after effects and I came out the doctors completely elated and proud of myself for getting it done.

Quick tips for anyone attending their first smear test:

  • You can take someone in with you, if it will make you feel better
  • Wear a skirt – even if it’s cold out. It makes access so much easier.
  • You CAN ask for a smaller speculum. They do provide them!
  • Do not research and read horror stories before hand. They don’t help and they’re irrelevant. This is your experience.
  • Tell your doctor/nurse if you’re nervous. Even tell the receptionist over the phone and like with me, they may be able to make a note on your file so the doctor/nurse is prepared for the fact that you’ll be nervous before you even get there.
  • Have a little downstairs wash before you go, just for common decency. But you don’t have to shave or be worried about what it looks like down there. Your doctor will have seen it all before.
  • Bleeding or stomach cramps after the test is completely normal! Don’t freak out if you get either/or.
  • Remember that the test is NOT looking for cancer!
  • Consider it a form of self care; like getting your hair or nails done. It’s an important thing you should do to take care of yourself; your future self might thank you for it. Plus… it’s free! Take advantage of that privilege that some people do not have.

How was your first cervical screening? Did it go smoothly? Any memorable moments or stories? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. I am SO thankful that I found this post! Thank you so much Jenny for your honesty, I also suffer with horrible anxiety when it comes to anything medical and I have my first smear test booked in tomorrow which I was dreading until I read this!

  2. I received my letter recently and am really nervous but at the same time understand how important it is. I totally agree with not watching horror stories, I was watching people talk about their experience on youtube and got onto some more of the less pleasant ones. Reading your post has put me at ease, I just want to get it over and done it with now

    Hayley | hayleyxmartin

  3. I’m so glad more people are opening up and talking about their smear test experiences. It’s such a scary though, especially when it’s your first time and you don’t know what to expect! The more we talk about it, hopefully the more people will go and get themselves checked. It could save their life.

  4. Fantastic post, Jenny! Having seen a few of your tweets mentioning how nervous you were about going, I’m so glad you did. I’m awaiting my 2nd which isn’t until next year (i think) and already beginning to feel a bit nervous but blog posts like this are so important I think. It allows people who haven’t been yet a little insight into what to expect because I think, the unknown is what makes it that bit more unnerving!

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
    Jess x

    1. Oh absolutely I agree, it’s the not knowing which makes it worse for sure! But of course if you haven’t been, you have nothing to even compare it to. But for the most part, it’s really not as bad as people make it up to be in their head (: xx

  5. Fantastic post!! I remember going for my first smear test and being petrified. Like you o had a really lovely nurse do mine and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I find it gets so much easier each time I go and it is really important. Really enjoyed reading your post! Xx

    1. That’s good to hear! I mean, I’m not looking forward to my next one but at least now I know what to expect and if I can have the same lovely doctor again as before, that’ll ease the nerves loads too (: xx

  6. I’ve just found out that this is a Thing in the U.K. — here in the States, your OB-GYN will do them but you don’t get a letter or any sort of official notice. I’ve been having them since I was like 17 and honestly I’ve gotten quite used to it by now. Glad you went through with it!! And how clever of the receptionist to write those notes, so you’d be spurred on to bravery!


    1. I can’t believe how smear tests are dealt with in the US. It’s SO much better; I don’t know why we have them so much later and it makes so much sense to have them from 17/18 and just including them as a normal part of your care?!

  7. Hi, thank you for sharing your very personal experience, hopefully it will reassure other anxious ladies out there and give them the confidence to go and get that smear done.

  8. This is really important, well done you for helping us ladies feel a lot better about it 🙂 I’ve had mine and it was completely fine. I get nervous about the doctors at the best of time, but the nurse was lovely and I barely felt a thing! 10/10 would recommend 😛 seriously though, anything that encourages ladies to get their smear test done is a really good thing, so thank you for this post 🙂

  9. OMG I love how detailed this is, thank you! I am 23 and I’ve been putting off my appointment for soooo long. Getting to know someone’s experience really helps and the extra tips too! I’m very anxious and just the thought of it freaks me out but it’s nice to know I wasn’t the only one.

    1. Where are you living, if you don’t mind me asking? Obviously in England, the age is 25 but you mentioned you’re 23 so that’s why I’m wondering! If you’re due, please don’t put it off. Get it out of the way (: xx

  10. I’m a long way off (years) from having a smear test, but I have already been thinking it’ll be awful so this has really set my mind at ease for when the time does come. Glad it went much better than you’d expected x

  11. I’m not due for mine for another couple of years but I’m still so glad I’ve come across your post now! Even now I’m pretty nervous to get it done but reading your tips will hopefully make my experience a little easier. I may even bring someone with me for moral support lol!

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience! I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do it because the whole time I was reading this I was like, nope no nope. I just don’t like anyone in my personal space, especially a stranger. So, even though your experience made me feel relatively better, I don’t think I will be getting one anytime soon.


    1. You only need one when you’re 25 in the UK, the nurse or doctor who does it would have seen every vagina under the sun. They literally save lives. And can detect changes which in years to come, could potentially turn cancerous had you not had them checked. I’d highly HIGHLY recommend and encourage all women to have one, if they’re the right age.

  13. Thank you so much for writing this post! I’m a very anxious person so I feel like when the time comes I’m going to be terrified, seeing a post like this one however makes me feel so much better and less scared. I feel like you use your platform for such useful purposes 💛

    1. Awh thank you so much! I do try; I like to make the most of the platform I have and if I can encourage one women who has been putting theirs off to go and get one then that’s job done! (: xx

  14. It’s so great to see you speaking out about your experience. I’m so nervous about having my first ever test but I’m glad that you have had such a positive experience.


  15. Ill be honest I’m really nervous about getting my letter too! But this is such a positive experience that you’ve definitely put my mind at ease a little.. I’ll definitely be coming back to read this whenever the letter appears! (And well done you for being so brave!)
    PaleGirlRambling xo

  16. Love that you’re speaking up about your experience! Although I’m not old enough to have my smear test yet, I think it’s so important to raise awareness and actually go and get it done and realise it’s totally worry free!
    jen, velvet spring x

  17. I can’t tell you how much I loved this post!! Having lost my mum to cervical cancer at the beginning of year, I bang on about smears to anyone that will (or is forced to) listen. Post like these are so so important xx

    Jay /

    1. Oh goodness me I am so sorry to hear that. It’s when I hear things like that when I get sad and almost angry that people aren’t making the most of this free and life saving service. Do you have any posts on your blog about it? xx

  18. This is a really great post to share and so so important! There is always so much negative stigma towards smear tests even though they are so so important to have done! Thanks for the tips x

    Kayleigh Zara 🌿

  19. What an amazing thing to share! The thought of smear tests freak me out so much and I also get very bad medical anxiety so this really put my mind at ease for when my smear test letter eventually shows up! xx

  20. This is a great post. It’s so important for women, especially young women, to be educated on how to take care of their health. I wish we could eliminate the stigma that it’s embarrassing, because when it comes to health, it shouldn’t ever be an issue. Thank you for this post. It’s got great advice. I remember my first smear, I was like, oh, is that it? Haha. Monica x

    1. That’s so true, I have no idea why a smear test is seen as embarrassing or taboo. It’s literally just looking after your health. Same as any other doctors appointment? Haha I was literally the same! So surprised xx

  21. I’m so glad you wrote about this topic! While it isn’t pleasant, women need to hear this message. In the US, you have to start having them from the time you first have sex. At 18, I had my first one and it was quite unnerving. I had an abnormal pap so I ended up having to have a colposcopy. I had abnormal cell growth but my body fixed it, thankfully. I much prefer having my paps done in the UK cause they warm the metal speculum; I freaked a little when I was it was mental cause in the Us they’re plastic. But I was so glad they warmed it for me. It isn’t pleasant but so necessary

    1. What! In the U.K. they’re plastic but they’re not cold or anything! I don’t actually think we use the metal ones anymore? I think it’s brilliant that in the US they do them from 18, I wish that was the case here.

      1. Oooh really? Maybe in some places around the U.K. they still use metal. I know my mum had metal in her last but one test which would have been a good over 6 years ago now as she only needs them every 5.

  22. Always love to see posts on things like this as they are so important and when you haven’t had a smear before it can be so daunting. I’ve had 3 now and even though I find the speculum opening the most uncomfortable part it really isn’t a bad ordeal at all! And for peace of mind it’s so worth going. Think I was waiting in the waiting room longer than the actual smear test itself! xx

    1. Oh god yes I totally agree, the whole wait from like the minute I made the appointment until I was actually sitting in the waiting room was worse than the whole appointment itself. You can really overthink these things and work then up in your head to something 100x worse than what they are.

  23. Such an important post, Jenny! Thank you so much for talking openly about your experiences, this is exactly what is needed to dispel fears about the smear test and reassure people that it’s not the horrible experience that we can often build up in our minds beforehands! Your doctor sounded so lovely and kind, I’m sure the fact that she looked like Sarah Millican provided a momentary distraction from your worry! I think that considering the test a form of self care is brilliant advice!

    Abbey 🌸💕

    1. Thanks so much Abbey! We can seriously overthink these tests – I know I did. Our imagination works overtime and we can drive ourselves mad thinking of all the possible outcomes and scenarios and what it’ll feel like and everything. And everyone’s experience is different too. She definitely was a slight distraction, she was SO lovely and that helped ten fold too xx

  24. I’m 25 in February, and I got my letter a week or so ago… Which reminds me, I really do need to book myself in. I’m so nervous, even though I know it’s really not that bad at all. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’ve got a little while yet but that’s great that you’re already thinking about it and it’s something that you’re already aware you need to do! Please don’t fret too much before the time comes (: booking the appointment is the first big step! xx

  25. Seriously, thank you so much for this post, Jenny. I just turned 25 in July and my doctor was like, “Kaiya, it’s time.” So my appointment is in October, and I’m so freaking nervous! I know it’s mostly “this is new, so it’s weird” anxiety, so I know I’ll be fine. But good grief. I wish it was just done and over with. Thank you for sharing your story and your tips — wearing a skirt is a great idea that no one had suggested to me!

    Best wishes.


    1. Best of luck in your appointment, I hope it all goes well! Honestly, try and not think about it from now until the time comes. Don’t do what I did – you’ll drive yourself absolutely mad. You don’t wanna be sitting in a car in Sainsbury’s car park crying because you’re dreading it so much haha! I think people can definitely over-think it. You’ll be fine (: xxx

  26. I’ve been twice (because I am old) as it’s every 3 years. They’re not pleasant, but they are necessary. I’ve had one abnormal result, but it was thrush and I’d already dealt with it by the time the letter arrived, so no drama.
    I used to work for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, a lovely bunch, and it is so so important to get tested.
    If you’re feeling nervous or worried, call Jo’s, honestly they’re so nice and will make you feel much better about the whole thing.
    Also, a female GP once said that her trick was to treat herself after – so you spend the 5 awkward minutes thinking about the nice thing you’re going to do after. I like that idea.

    1. That’s a lovely idea – lots of people on Twitter (including you I think!) mentioned that. Treating yourself to a nice takeaway or something afterwards is sure to keep your mind off it occasionally haha! That’s cool that you used to work for Jo’s! They’re fab on Twitter (:

  27. Brilliant post Jenny! I was very nervous for my first one and to be honest even now three smear tests later and after having two children it can still be a little nerve wracking thinking about going. Totally agree about the skirt that was the best advice I was given it made me feel a lot more comfortable xx

  28. Wow, amazing post! This is a subject that should be more openly talked about. I know I was super nervous when I did my first one (I was also doing it in French, which isn’t my first language, so I was super nervous to not understand what was going on). I read so many horror stories online. My advice would be to try to stay relaxed and think about other things. I know when I was tense, it hurt more. I also didn’t know about being able to ask for a smaller speculum! Again, great post girl.

    1. Blimey, talk about throwing you in the deep end! Amazing that you kept your head whilst having the whole thing in another language too! And yes relaxing definitely would help although obviously that’s easier said than done, especially if you’re so stressed. I found a nice doctor or nurse can make the world of difference and calm you down so much so it’s worth looking into that too (:

  29. Really great and fantastic post! I won’t get a smear for a few years yet but still I don’t think it’s talked about enough. Unless it the debate whether the age limit should be brought down (I think it should) but no one seems to talk what happens. If I hadn’t read this I wouldn’t have known you can ask for a smaller speculum. I think when the time comes I will be nervous but I’ll properly come back to this post to calm my nerves. Thank you Jenny!

    1. By all means, bookmark it! Not many people know that you can ask about the speculum. It’s a shame cos that seems to be the THING that people worry about most. And honestly, the small one really isn’t daunting in the slightest! I was so surprised at how small it really was.

  30. Brilliant post as usual and I hope it will encourage women to take advantage of this crucial service. I always had my smears and it was at one that my problems were picked up, ok so I have gone on to have further complications but that is rare. Getting a heads up early really can save lives. Strangely now that I no longer have a cervix they still call me for a test, go figure! xx

    1. Haha funny that! Obviously there will always be unfortunate exceptions and I’m really sorry to hear about yours but it could have been much worse, had you not gone for them. So I’m glad you did (: xx

  31. Fantastic post, Jenny! I still remember my first one when I was 21 (we are called as soon as we hit 21 here) and I was so scared. There was no info on experiences, online, that weren’t horror stories. I have had a kid and losses but I still dread that duck beak and the brush, however, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to try to relax as it will make things ‘too tight’. It is wonderful that you made this post x

    1. Thanks so much Lisa. I was literally working myself up into a frenzy for a month to the point where I was sitting crying in Sainsbury’s car park because I was dreading it so much. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that nervous that they end up cancelling due to the stress of it, when it really isn’t that bad and is so important. It’s never going to be a fun experience for sure!

      1. I totally understand your feelings on it, I believe I was the same way. My husband came with me but I never thought to have him in the room with me! My mother in law is in her 60s and has never been for one. Every time I have to go for mine I tell her I will book us both an appt and I will stay with her but she is too scared. She has terrible anxiety and I think she is scared of the results as much as the procedure. It is such an important part of our lives but not getting it scares me more than getting it.

      2. That’s another thing that people need to be more aware of, the results aren’t going to tell you if you have cancer or not as they look for changes which COULD progress into it. The way I see it is what would you prefer; an abnormal test result and a smear test every year so they can keep an eye on it or stage 3 cancer from not getting checked? It’s a no brainer.

      3. Exactly! My mum had abnormal cells and had them lasered off but that isn’t always the case, sometimes it is just that they need to redo the test and everything is actually ok! To me it is like using a condom, even though you are on the pill, it is better to take precautions than throw caution to the wind as the pill does not protect against STIs. If we are smart enough to know to do that then, in my opinion, we should know that a smear is more than worth it when it comes to cancer. If you don’t get a smear and you have symptoms, it is sad to say, by that point it is usually too late to treat.

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