Smear Tests and being a survivor – #SmearForSmear @helen_a15

Cross-posted from: Helen Blogs
Originally published: 22.01.18

Roll up roll up … according to Twitter today, having a smear test is quick, easy, and nothing to be embarrassed about.

Apparently research has shown that women are too embarrassed to go for a smear test. This is being tweeted about today under the hashtag #SmearForSmear – a campaign which encourages women to post selfies of themselves with smeared lipstick on. Its to highlight that the number of women going for their routine cervical screen testing is falling.

The hashtag has been trending all morning, and all you have to do is have a quick look to see the mass consensus – that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that there is nothing to be embarrassed about, it doesn’t matter what your ‘lady garden’ looks like or doesn’t look like, that its quick, that it could save your life, that the nurse has seen it all before,  that its worth it and so on.

All of these things are true.

Except the ‘its easy’.

Because for many many women, it is not easy.

What isn’t being talked about is that for A LOT of women, having to book an appointment with someone you may have never met, having to go and undress your lower half and lay on a table exposing your self while said person probes and pokes around down there as you wonder where to put your hands, or what to say to them is far from easy.

It is 2018, and whilst numbers of women going for their smear tests are seemingly decreasing, the number of women who are victims of child sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape is on the increase.

‘Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour’ (taken from Rape Crises)

That is just one statistic, in the UK – of women affected by rape. That isn’t including any other sexual assault or violence or statistics about women who have been abused as children. I don’t know where to begin with finding out those kinds of numbers but be assured, it will be phenomenally high.

Yet it isn’t really being talked about in relation to going for cervical smears.
There is just a small handful of us today tweeting about the impact being a survivor can have and how it can make something that is ‘easy and quick’ for some a traumatic nightmare for others.

Last year, I had to start some chemo based drugs to try and get on top of some autoimmune problems I am living with. In order to start the drug, I had to have a recent (and clear) cervical screening. I remember when the Consultant told me. I froze.

I asked if there was any other option, any other way around it. There wasn’t, apart from not having the treatment, and then there were no other options after that either.

So I had no choice.

Something I had avoided for years, and years, and more years, had come up and I had to have it. All the pieces of paper in the post I had ripped up, all the conversations with my GP saying ‘no’ came to an end.

I booked an appointment with a nurse I had seen once or twice, to have a chat. We made a plan, which included a double appointment, taking a friend, and diazepam, lots and lots of diazepam.

I made it. She was lovely (I am lucky – not everyone has that experience), and being stoned off my face helped.

BUT I still felt as if I had been re violated. As much as my mind told my brain it was fine, it wasn’t fine. I had flashbacks of the procedure, AND of my trauma. I had nightmares. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to see anyone. I hibernated, and hid away from the world. I stopped going to church, and talking to people. For weeks and weeks and weeks.

And I couldn’t tell anyone why. I felt silly, and stupid but however hard I willed, I couldn’t stop my brain from working the way it worked.

I was able to move forward from it eventually, but it took some time, and the test came back clear and I was able to start the chemo drugs.

I am pleased I had it done, because it needed to be done. I am pleased I was able to move forward from it, and hope the next time it might be less traumatic. But who knows?

When it comes to being a survivor of sexual violence, we live life doing what we can – to survive. And we live life dealing with whatever is thrown in our way and however our brains decide to behave on any given day. We have no control over it often.

This also affects women who have experienced trauma in other ways, such as traumatic child birth delivery.

It is important that the voices talking about sexual violence and trauma and how it affects having a smear test are not ignored.

It is important my voice is not ignored.

I want there to be proper conversation, research and consideration about the issues around this.

I want the shaming of women who are not able to go for a smear test easily to stop, and for people to be aware and more considerate of the real issues, including the ones I have mentioned, and how the ‘being embarrassed’ thing doesn’t actually cover it properly.

I want women to be able to access having smear tests knowing that their issues and concerns have been taken into account.

I want there to be change.

Its 2018 – surely its time?



Helen Blogs: christian, feminist, rape survivor & survivors advocate, Jaffa cake lover. writer about , , & .  @helen_a15