5 Things You Should Know About Your Pap Test

Photographed By Megan Madden.
Ah, the pap smear. A rite of passage that people with vaginas just can't escape — or, seemingly, stop complaining about. No, you might not want to do it every day (and luckily, no one needs you to!), but you have to admit that it's an important part of your preventive care. And learning more about the test is the best way to calm your nerves, whether you're prepping for your first or your fifth.

First off, here's the basic rundown of what'll happen: After undressing and donning that sexy paper gown, you'll lie back and put your heels in the stirrups attached to the exam table. Then, your doctor will insert a speculum (that metal device that looks like a duck's bill) into your vagina. This tool helps keep the walls of your vagina apart while your doctor swabs cells from your cervix. This shouldn't hurt, but it may feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds. The cells from the swab then go off to the lab for testing — and that's it! The whole thing should take just a few minutes.

The pap is also frequently combined with a basic pelvic and breast exam as part of your annual "well woman" visit. But the pap isn't actually recommended every year (more on that later) so if you're at your appointment during an off-year, feel free to use that time in whatever way would be most helpful to you. Ask any random questions that have popped up but didn't require a full visit, or just chat about how your chosen form of birth control's been working out.

But, for now, we're here to talk about that good ol' pap. Click through for five things you should know about this common and crucial preventive test.