Pap Tests and What to Expect – Upspoken

Type to search

Featured Self Care

Pap Tests and What to Expect


Whether your 21st birthday is quickly approaching, or you’re looking back at it in your rear view mirror, it’s safe to say that one’s 21st is something to celebrate!🍾

But beyond the celebrating, there’s so much more to living your best and healthiest life—it’s often responsibility without the fanfare. We at Upspoken want to celebrate that responsibility and offer some tips about sexual health and wellness. Whether you are freshly 21 or 60 and sexy, it’s important to know that sexual health is timeless!

The first step to owning your sexual health is knowing your body, including getting a Pap Test. That’s right, once you turn 21—and regularly for decades after—a Pap Test is essential to staying on top of your sexual health. It’s nothing to be nervous about…plus, we’re here to give you the 411!

What is a Pap Test?

A Pap Test is a brief exam of a woman’s cervix to screen for signs of cervical cancer. The Pap can reveal changes in your cervix or pre-cancerous cells that may potentially turn into cancer. Pap Tests also involve a swab for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), an STI that can cause cells on your cervix to change (which can ultimately lead to cancer). To learn more about HPV peep this  Upspoken article here!

It is important to note that HIV, herpes, and other STIs are NOT detected in a Pap Test. Be sure to ask your medical provider for these tests separately.

Where do I get a Pap Test?

Find a Gynecologist (OB/GYN), an Obstetrics and Gynecology Nurse Practitioner (OGNP), a Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM), or a  Planned Parenthood near you.

The exam is typically done in your medical provider’s office or clinic.

How much does a Pap Test cost?

Thanks to nonprofit programs, no woman should go without a Pap Test due to lack of financial funds. There are local county health departments and federally funded programs across the country that offer low cost or free Pap Tests. Find one near you here!

How long does the test take?

10-20 minutes.

What happens during a Pap Test?

You will be asked to lie on a table with your feet in stirrups and your legs spread open with a sheet covering you from the waist down. Your medical provider then inserts a “speculum” (the medical term for metal or plastic instrument) into your vagina, widening your vaginal walls and giving him/her a clear view of your cervix. He/she will use a swab to take a sample of cells from your cervix, and send them to a lab for review.

Does a Pap Test hurt?

No, it shouldn’t. You may feel a little pinch or a bit of pressure and it may be uncomfortable, but it’s not supposed to be painful. If you do feel pain, you should mention it during the exam.

When will I get my test results?

Within 1-3 weeks you will get notified by your medical provider. If your results require further explanation they will call and explain your test results and next steps (if there are any).

What do my test results mean?

If your test results come back negative or “normal,” your cervix is healthy and the cells are not showing signs for cancer or pre-cancer. As for next steps, there is varying advice about how often to get a Pap Test. Is this one and done? Annually? Every few years? The truth is, it depends. If you’ve changed sexual partners, if you didn’t use protection (even once), or some other factor—you owe it to your body to get screened sooner rather than later. See here and here for advice from the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, respectively.  

If your test results come back positive or “abnormal,” don’t panic. It’s common to have unclear or abnormal Pap Test results. It probably won’t serve you well if your next Google search is “Do I have cancer?” Your medical provider should guide you on options for further testing.

If I have an abnormal Pap Test, what could further testing consist of?

  1. Another Pap Test.
  2. An HPV Test looking for high-risk types of virus that can cause precancerous cells. To learn more about HPV check out our Upspoken article here!
  3. A colposcopy, an exam that looks more closely at your cervix for precancerous cells.

Part of staying on top of your sexual health is staying informed. Showing up here is a huge step in the right direction. Share this article with your 21+ sisters and empower them to own their sexual health as well!