A WellCat pap smear: an ‘inside’ look


Nurse practitioner Jennifer Hopkins performing a routine pap smear. Point of view from the patient. Photo taken Sept. 29 2022 by Molly Myers.

Before my first pap smear I had the irrational fear I would somehow be visibly aroused. I was not.

A pap smear is a medical exam used to test for cervical cancer. During the exam, a medical practitioner sticks different tools up the patient’s vagina to collect cells off of the cervix. The cells are then tested for cancer.

Jennifer Hopkins, nurse practitioner at WellCat Health Center, said “The name pap smear is just kind of scary. It can be kind of nerve racking for some people.” 

The pap smear is named after George Papanicolaou, the gynecologist who invented it. Thanks for the life saving exam George, but let’s try to have a less scary name next time. 

Before my first exam, I also had anxiety about how my vagina looked and thought I had to be perfectly shaven. I now realize that no nurse is going to care about your body hair. They’ve seen it all. 

Pain was also something I was worried about. Anxiety about pap smears is common and can even lead women to avoid the examination altogether. This anxiety can result in delayed care for cervical cancer. 

Considering my fear of arousal, pain and anxiety about how my vagina looks I was not looking forward to my first pap smear. That said, if you have a vagina and are 21-years-old, you are due for one. According to Jennifer Hopkins, if you become sexually active before age 21 you are also due for a pap smear. 

This means if you are one of 42% of women who became sexually active as a teenager, you do not have to wait to have a pap smear. Interestingly, the percentage of women who have sex for the first time in their teens has remained steady since the early 2000s, while the rate of teen sex in males has declined. Currently only 38% of males start having sex in their teens as opposed to 46% in the early 2000s.  

These are national statistics. First-time sex statistics for Chico State students are not available, but I would wager most female students will need a pap smear before turning 21. 

It’s been three years since my first pap smear so I recently scheduled one with WellCat. Every time I go to WellCat I am lucky enough that Jennifer Hopkins is my nurse. Hopkins is always extremely professional, sensitive and patient. She will answer any questions you have. If you are writing an article on the experience, she will even let you take her picture from your point of view during the exam.

Before the exam you are going to be asked a lot of questions.

Questions you will be asked include: 

  • What date were you last sexually active? 
  • What do you use for birth control?
  • How many partners have you had in the past year?
  • Were these partners male or female?
  • Are you currently in a relationship?
  • Do you always use condoms?
  • When was your last pap smear? Were the results normal?
  • The school does charge $11 for your pap smear. Is that okay?
  • Do you need any refills on birth control pills?
  • Is there anything personal we want to talk about before the exam?

 I used to be super embarrassed by these questions and would even lie on occasion. I was in an open relationship once when a doctor had to ask me the monogamy question. When I told her my relationship was open, she responded with, “That means you are high risk. You need to get tested.”

She said nothing wrong and honestly made me take a hard look at what I was doing in life. All this to say, the questions are uncomfortable, but you need to answer them honestly. They’re designed to help you get the medical care you need. 

The Exam

The whole point of a pap smear is to check for cervical cancer. This requires specific tools that will go inside your vagina including:

  • Speculum: a metal or plastic tool that is used to open up the vagina for inspection.  
  • Silicone Brush: this is used to scrape cells off of the cervix.
  • KY lubricant: this is a standard lubricant used to make the tools slide into the vagina with ease.
  • Her gloved finger. 
the tray of instruments that go in vagina
The tools that will be used during the pap smear. The blue stick with the white tip is the silicone brush that collects the cells for cancer testing. Photo taken Sept. 29 2022 by Molly Myers.

Hopkins gave me a big-cloth drape to cover my legs for the exam. She left the room for a few minutes for me to change. When she came back she first checked my lungs with a stethoscope while I was sitting upright on the examination table. Hopkins said there has been a lot of strep throat lately. 

From there Hopkins had me lie down, put my feet in the stirrups — which had cute red and gray socks on them — then scoot down to the end of the exam table for inspection. I had to be told four times to scoot my vagina towards the end of the table. 

“It’s always farther than we think,” Hopkins said.

Ever sensitive and gentle, Hopkins let me know everything she was going to do just before she did it. First came the speculum. Hopkins had me take a big breath then let it all out. She told me to “relax that whole pyramid.” This was my first time hearing someone describe the vagina as a pyramid and it made total sense. 

She then inserted the speculum to help open my vagina. This didn’t hurt at all, but then came the silicone brush. This is when they scrape your cervix to collect the cells to be tested for cancer.

“Sometimes that makes your stomach flip-flop,” Hopkins said. 

I find this sensation nearly impossible to describe to males. The vagina is an organ. It feels like an organ is being scraped.

I texted one of my friends to help me describe it and she said, “It feels like they’re scraping the back of my eyeballs lmaooo.”

Carrington Power, copy editor at The Orion and woman with a vagaina, describes the sensation as, “scraping the bottom of your stomach with a toothbrush.”

It isn’t intense pain, but it does not feel good. Thankfully, this is the worst part and is over in moments.

Next, with one finger inside my vagina and one hand on my abdomen, Hopkins checked my ovaries and uterus. With that the exam was over. The actual exam part took less than three minutes. I was on my way, but not before paying my dues. 

“You know the toll to come see me, take at least five or six condoms,” Hopkins said. 

After the exam I recommend using the bathroom to wipe away the lube. 

I got my results 10 days later through the WellCat patient portal. Pap smears aren’t fun, but they shouldn’t be dreaded. The things I originally worried about before my first pap smear didn’t actually matter. Despite the slight pain there isn’t anything to get worked up about. 

To schedule with WellCat call 530-898-5241 or go online using the WellCat patient portal.

Trojan condoms in jar
Trojan condoms in clear jar on desk. Condoms are free at WellCat and patients are encouraged to grab a handful. Photo taken Sept. 29 2022 by Molly Myers.