30th May, 20225 min read

16 tips to make your smear test more comfortable

Medical reviewer:
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Jo Waters
Jo Waters
Last reviewed: 31/05/2022
Medically reviewed

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If you’re worried your smear test will be embarrassing, uncomfortable or even painful – we’re here to help. The test only takes 5 minutes from start to finish and your doctor or nurse will have most likely done hundreds of them before. So here’s how to prep to get the best experience you can.

Read on for 16 practical tips, including some from the cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust, to make sure your smear test appointment is nothing to fear.

If it’s your first smear

  • talk to someone who has been there and done it – friends and family can tell you what a smear test is like and reassure you that it’s a quick and relatively painless procedure
  • plan ahead – if you’re anxious about the appointment, ring the surgery and talk to a nurse about what will happen and/or book a longer appointment so you won’t be rushed and there will be time for you to ask questions

If you’re worried or anxious

  • book the first appointment of the day – this might stop you stressing about it all day beforehand
  • take someone in with you – if you need moral support, take someone you trust and who can calm you down, along with you. They can hold your hand and distract you and give you reassurance. You can also ask the surgery/clinic to provide a chaperone if you don’t have anyone you could ask to come with you. Their role would be more that of an independent adviser though rather than calming you down
  • play some music – if you’ve got a favourite piece of music that helps you chill and relax, you could ask if it’s okay if you play it via your phone (but not with your earphones in or you won’t hear the instructions), while you have your smear

If you feel embarrassed

  • ask for a doctor or nurse of a particular sex – you may prefer a female doctor or nurse to do your smear test - so make that request in advance. Equally, if you have a male doctor you see regularly that you know and trust, you may feel more comfortable about them doing it instead, (if they have the specialist training)
  • wear a dress or a skirt – somehow it’s not quite so daunting if you don’t have to remove clothing (apart from your pants), so a dress or a skirt may be a better choice to wear on the day as you can just lift it up. Don’t forget your nurse will also give you a blanket or some tissue to cover up whilst you’re waiting

Woman wearing a skirt

If you find it uncomfortable or painful - or have done in the past

  • ask for a countdown – sometimes it helps to know exactly what's coming next and how long it's going to last for – so ask your nurse or doctor to give you a running commentary
  • find out if you can have a smaller speculum – if the speculum your nurse or doctor inserts feels uncomfortable, you can ask them to try to use a smaller one
  • take a painkiller beforehand – if you’ve found a smear painful in the past, take a painkiller such as paracetamol before you go in for your smear test
  • try some deep breathing exercises – deep breathing exercises will help you combat anxiety. Deep breathing can help you - and your vaginal walls - to relax, particularly if you practice them before and during your smear test. This can help reduce feelings of discomfort
  • lie on your left side – if it’s uncomfortable for you to lie flat on your back, ask if you can try a different position such as on your left side with your knees bent
  • ask for vaginal oestrogen if you're post menopausal – post menopausal women have vaginal walls that are less stretchy, which can make smear tests more uncomfortable, so ask your doctor (or sometimes your nurse) to prescribe you vaginal oestrogen to make it feel smoother

Woman with glass of water and a painkiller

Find out if you can be seen at a specialist clinic

If you have special reasons for being anxious about a smear - you can be seen at a specialist clinic. These include:

  • My Body Back has specialist clinics in London and Glasgow for victims of sexual violence
  • if you have vaginismus, a medical condition that causes the muscles around the vagina to tighten up when you or someone else puts something in it, specialist support for managing the symptoms is available
  • clinics for transgender men and non binary people with cervixs are also available. Find out more from the NHS here or contact Dean St
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