Smear tests oft strike fear into the laps of many. There’s something about someone other than a girlfriend or casual bed partner tinkering in your baby garden that is unnerving and unsettling, probably because it entails the wielding of large tools that are in no way designed to cause orgasms.
Or maybe as Patsy from Ab Fab said: “I hate gynaecologists - a man who can look you in the vagina but never in the eye!” It’s an intimate affair without the intimacy, which is unsurprising as it feels like a stranger is rummaging in your most personal boot.
However, it is a reality of healthcare that every woman must acknowledge.
Like many of us of a certain age, I had received numerous letters through my letterbox requesting the attendance of my cervix in my local GP’s office. However, after repeatedly filing these notifications (into the bin) I realised the irresponsibility of my inaction. I decided to make a conscious effort to monitor and maintain my sexual health.
I made the appointment.
The Ordeal loomed on the horizon for a few days until the bright dawn of the appointment day broke early one weekday morning. I wore a nice pair of underwear and hoped for warm hands. Upon arriving in the surgery I was greeted with pleasant smiles and inane celebrity gossip rags, which greatly supported the air of nonchalance I had decided to adopt when stepping through the door. It was cool. I was getting a Smear Test. No biggie.
After nearly getting whiplash for a particularly enthusiastic devil may care hair flick, I was summoned to the examination room. I obliged and sauntered in, trying to ignore how suddenly I had become aware of my body. I sat my arms, elbows, chins and knees in a chair and grinned manically. Opposite me sat my nurse, who was a lovely and perceptive woman. She reassured me about the oncoming event by playing her routine (and scripted) ploys in comforting me, namely by saying how uncomfortable and strange it was going to be. As I am an adult I accepted the situation, if only outwardly. Inwardly and southwardly I was tense. She smiled; I smiled. I stood up to lift up my skirt and pull off my tights.
As I made my way to the examination table she asked me if I wanted her to test for any STIs. I said why not - if the hood is already up. I told her that I was only having sex with my girlfriend but it was probably sensible to get checked out. However this gesture of responsibility and vaginal self-awareness was quickly debased.
“Oh. Oh, I don’t think you need one at all then.”
We looked at each other and tried to work out what the other was saying.
“No smear test at all?”
“Well, have you had penetrative sex?”
“With a man?”
“No.” (Gold Star.)
“But you’ve had penetrative sex?”
“Yes.” (Several times.)
“With a woman?”
Words can’t fully describe the subtle nuances of our communal confusion. Her facial features were rapidly receding into a sheet of perplexed wrinkles; I was squinting trying to see said disappearing features. After gawking at each other for a few loaded seconds she said: “Excuse me. I have to go ask a doctor about this.” I waited for her to get a certified verdict. When she returned she said that no, I didn’t need a smear test because I’d not had penetrative sex with a penis. I didn’t really know how to respond so nodded and thought that I’d at least be able to sit comfortably for the rest of the day. As a parting gesture she gave me a personal swab for STI testing (which can only be described as a large and invasive ear bud) to use at my own discretion. It was a token much like a lollipop but nowhere near as appetizing. She said that if I was pestered with Smear Spam (thus dubbed by myself) I should ring in and explain the situation (Lesbianism).
Lesbian sex comes with the weight of mystery. If you’re young and inexperienced you’re fumbling around trying to work out how to do it; if you’re straight or otherwise unfamiliar you’re fumbling around trying to work out how we do it. It’s a wonder anyone holds down a job with all the confusion. In the aftermath of The Ordeal I can only ascertain that I may have fallen victim to ignorance. My treatment was in no way malicious or disrespectful but obviously stemmed from a genuine lack of understanding from both sides. Half of me thinks: “Great! All the orgasms without the risk of cervical cancer!” The other says: “But what if there is a risk and I’m missing out on important attention?” For the moment the jury is undecided and ill informed but I have made another appointment to get a second opinion. I’ve already picked out the underwear. Let’s hope I’ll get to take them off.
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