If you're reading this blog congratulations, you are one step closer to opening your legs for a complete stranger and potentially saving your life.
We all know the devastating impact cervical cancer can have and the importance of having a smear test to detect abnormal cells early. After all, we are the generation that grew up knowing Jade Goody's name.
Yet one in four of us still ignore our invitation to go for cervical screening under the NHS.
Research suggests that 83% of 25 to 29-year-olds who avoid smear tests do so because they find the idea "embarrassing" - a statistic I don't find remotely surprising.
While there is plenty of information out there on the health benefits of having a smear test, we rarely talk about the nitty gritty of the procedure. Even as a someone who writes about women's health for a living, I was nervous before having my first test in October.
So to mark Cervical Screening Awareness Week, here are my no-holds-barred tips for getting through your first smear.
1. Wear a skirt
If you're feeling nervous about stripping off, I'd highly advise wearing a skirt. This was a top tip I received from a colleague and I think being able to keep my skirt on made me feel less self-conscious than if I'd had to remove trousers.
If you wear a skirt, you'll just need to remove your underwear and tights and pop them on the chair next to you. Simple.
2. You may be asked if you want to bring someone in with you
During the consultation before the test began, my nurse asked me: "Do you want to bring anyone from reception in with you?" This completely confused me because I'd arrived at the surgery by myself.
My nurse went on to explain that due to the intimate nature of smear tests, some people feel more comfortable having more than one person in the room with them. The reception staff at some doctors surgeries are trained to come and sit with you while you have the procedure - they sit by your head, so don't get a front row seat for proceedings.
I turned down the offer but thought I'd share this as a heads up: if your nurse asks you "would you like to bring anyone from reception in?" it doesn't mean you get to pick a friendly looking granny from the waiting room.
3. No one gives a shit about your underwear
The morning of my smear test I had a last minute panic about my underwear. I'd grabbed a pair of knickers from my drawer, only to decide they were "too lacey" for a smear test. After all, I didn't want my nurse to think I'd worn my sexy pants for her.
As a result I charged about my (very messy) bedroom, looking for an appropriate pair of "boring knickers" that were both clean and period stain-free. I was almost late for my appointment, but the whole debacle was pointless.
At your appointment, your nurse will ask you to undress your lower half behind a curtain before they get into position to perform the test. The whole routine to protect your modesty is pretty ridiculous considering what comes next, but that's by-the-by. Your nurse never even sees your knickers, so don't stress about what you wear.
4. No one gives a shit about your pubes
Much like your knickers, your nurse (probably) couldn't care less about your pubes. I go to a small village doctors surgery where the nurses are around the same age as my mum. Something about their motherly vibe made me really concerned they were going to judge my pubic hair. In preparation for my appointment, I decided to grow out my usual style and opt for a "natural but neatly trimmed" look.
My nurse didn't remotely react to my perfectly crafted pubes (not even a nod of approval!) which means one of two things: either I totally nailed smear test pubes or my nurse could not have cared less about what my nether regions looked like. I'm guessing it was probably the latter.
5. The pain is totally bearable
I'm not going to lie, having a smear test is uncomfortable, but it's also totally bearable. I'm not entirely sure how to describe the sensation as it's not like anything I've ever felt before, but it's basically like someone is scraping really far inside you. It might make you wince, but it won't make you scream.
One thing to bear in mind: having a smear test won't kill you, but cervical cancer might. Push through that discomfort!
6. You may bleed
Now this was the thing that really caught me off guard. In the initial consultation my nurse explained that some women experience "light spotting" after their smear test, but I bled a fair amount as soon as she removed the speculum.
To be fair to my nurse she was super helpful and provided me with tissues to clear myself up while she went back behind the screen. Afterwards, she explained that some women are more prone to bleeding than others and if you're on the contraceptive pill (like me) you may be more unlucky than others. Apparently mine was a rare, particularly bloody case, so don't let it put you off.
Unfortunately I'd walked to the doctors surgery, meaning I had a 15-minute shuffle home feeling incredibly aware of my bleeding vagina. If you're heading for your first smear, I'd recommend putting a pantyliner or sanitary towel in your bag just in case, so you can stop by the toilets on your way out if necessary. You probably won't fancy using a tampon.
Despite my first smear test not going particularly smoothly, the fact that I'm here and telling the tale is hopefully proof that cervical screening really isn't that bad. If you've made it to the end of this blog, do yourself a favour and make an appointment on your next lunch break. It could save your life.Suggest a correction