Can You Have Sex Before A Pap Smear?

A pap smear is also known as a pap test and is part of the regular checkups that all women should have. This procedure tests for cervical cancer and involves the collection of cells from the cervix. By detecting cervical cancer early through a pap smear, you will have a better chance at making a full recovery. Pap smears also detect changes to the cervical cells that may suggest the future development of cancer. Common questions women ask their gynecologists include "can you have sex before a pap smear" or "will sex affect the results".

Can You Have Sex Before a Pap Smear?

The general rule is that you should not put anything in your vagina for between 24 to 48 hours before your pap smear. This may lead to inaccurate results by masking abnormal cells. If you have just douched, had intercourse or put anything else in your vagina, you should reschedule your appointment as the answer to "can you have sex before a pap smear" is "no". If for some reason, you can’t reschedule, you should at least let your doctor know that you have had intercourse recently.

Other Preparations for a Pap Smear

Avoid using vaginal powders, sprays or tampons for 24 hours minimum before your pap smear. You should also schedule the test for a time when you are not menstruating as the blood may affect the test results. In some cases, light bleeding is okay.

When you arrive at your doctor’s appointment, let your doctor know the following things:

  • If you are pregnant or you think you might be
  • If this is the first time you have a pap test
  • If you are on birth control
  • If you have any urinary tract or reproductive symptoms like sores, swelling, redness, itching, increased vaginal discharge or an unusual odor
  • Any changes to your vagina if you do regular vaginal self-examinations
  • When you had your last period and how long it lasted
  • Whether you have had procedures or surgery to the uterus, vulva, cervix or vagina

When to Have a Pap Smear

The question of "can you have sex before a pap smear" is important since women should have this test done by the age of 21 or within three years of their first sexual activity. You then need to have the test annually for a minimum of three years. If the results come out normal, your doctor may suggest having the test every two or three years instead. In this case, still visit your gynecologist annually for breast and pelvic exams. Schedule your pap smear around 10 to 20 days following the beginning of your previous menstrual period.

What to Expect in a Pap Smear

During a pap smear, you lie down on the examination table on your back with your feet in stirrups and knees bent. A small speculum is inserted in the vagina and this may cause mild discomfort. It holds your vaginal walls open so your doctor can see the cervix and upper vagina. They will then wipe a thin wooden spatula, cotton swab or tiny brush over the cervix to collect cells, which may be mildly uncomfortable. The cells undergo microscopic analysis in the laboratory and the entire procedure takes two or three minutes.

Results of Pap Smear

  • Normal Results

If there are only normal cervical cells, your result is considered negative. No treatment is necessary.

  • Abnormal Results

A positive result means unusual or abnormal cells are discovered. This doesn’t always mean cervical cancer and your diagnosis and treatment depend on the type of cells found.

  • What to Do If Your Result Is Abnormal

A pap smear with an abnormal result may be followed by a colposcopy which involves using a colposcopy (a magnifying instrument) to examine your vulva, vaginal and cervical tissues. Your doctor might also take a biopsy for tissue analysis. 

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