It's often said that modern medicine would look vastly different if we didn't live in a patriarchal society. Male doctors would take women's symptoms seriously, contraception wouldn't have such potentially life-altering symptoms and the often debilitating impact of period pain would have been researched decades ago.
But have you ever wondered how that most joyous rite of passage, the cervical smear, might be different in a more gender-equal society? Your doctor probably wouldn't use a cold metal speculum to open you up, for a start. The sinister-looking piece of equipment was designed (by a man, of course) nearly 200 years ago and has barely been updated for modern use – until now.
Frog, a San Francisco-based design firm, has given the humble medical apparatus a 21st-century update, as part of a project to "humanise" the cervical (or pap) smear experience, fortune.com reported. Female employees from the company have tried to recreate the device without any of its current anxiety-inducing traits: the cold temperature, the cranking noise or the uncomfortable feeling inside the vagina.
The original metal contraption was invented in the 1840s by American physician James Marion Sims – who notoriously experimented on enslaved African Americans, often without anaesthesia – but the new version has been designed specifically with women's comfort in mind. Hailey Stewart, an industrial designer, and her experience designer colleague, Sahana Kumar, interviewed patients and healthcare providers as the basis of their project and found their impression of the device to be fiercely negative.
The original device consists of two rounded metal "blades" hinged together at a right angle at one end. The other end is then opened once inserted into the vagina. Frog's redesign, by contrast, is angled at 105 degrees (making it more comfortable), coated in surgical silicone and has three "leaves" to expand the vagina, rather than a push handle with just one setting, reported fortune.com.
Fran Wang, a mechanical engineer at Frog who designed the device, said it's "more like something you’d buy at Good Vibrations [a San Francisco Bay Area-based sex toy chain]" than a traditional medical device. While it's still at the prototype stage, the team is looking for a medical device partner to fund and manufacture it. It looks like the cervical smear could soon become a lot less uncomfortable.