Can I Have Sex After a Pap Smear?

26 October, 2020
Some women wonder if it's possible to have sex after a Pap smear. In this article, we leave everything crystal clear! Don't miss out!

Have you ever wondered if you can have sex after a pap smear? Well, this is one of the main questions after undergoing this gynecological exam. That’s why we’d like to review the most relevant aspects of this test in order to finally put an end to this question!

What is a pap smear?

First of all, it’s important to talk a bit more about the test we call the Papanicolaou, or as it’s also often referred to as, the Pap. It’s a gynecological examination in which a health professional takes a sample from the woman’s cervix. The cervix is the final part of the uterus in contact with the vagina.

First, the specialist takes a sample with a swab, a small brush or a small palette intended for this purpose. It’s then placed on a glass portion – the slide – or in a bottle with a special liquid to preserve the cells found there.

Then, the specialist sends the sample to a laboratory. There, a pathologist, who’s a physician specialized in the interpretation of cells by means of a microscope, will prepare a report according to what they saw. The specialists return this report to the woman a few days later so that she can proceed with her tests or conclude them, according to the results.

Woman getting a Pap smear.
Specialist recommend Pap smears as a preventive measure for the early detection of problems in the cervix.

What the test is for?

The goal of the Pap smear is the early detection of cervical cancer. This means diagnosing it early, in its initial stages. This is done in order to give it proper treatment and avoid complications from late detection.

This cancer has its origin in the human papillomavirus -HPV-, which after being acquired by infection, causes changes in the cells of the woman’s cervix. These alterations, if maintained for years, could lead to cancerous transformation, as explained in a MedlinePlus publication.

Thus, the Pap smear is an essential tool for preventing this type of cancer. In addition, it’s accessible, low cost for the health system, and it’s available practically anywhere in the world.

Also read: Vaginal Pain: Why Do You Feel It?

Possible Pap smear results

The Pap smear can have two types of results: normal or abnormal. In a normal result, the pathologist only identifies healthy cells in the woman’s cervix.

The only action taken in these cases is the continuation of periodic controls. Depending on the age and previous results of the Pap smear in previous years, the frequency with which the woman will be cited for future controls may vary.

In general, if the results are normal, specialists recommend one examination every three years, preferably between the ages of 35 and 64. However, women should get tested from the age of 18, 21 or 25, depending on the recommendations of each country.

It’s important to note that specialists report abnormal results in a different way:

  • Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance: possibly inflammatory and not precancerous changes. In this case, doctors may perform an HPV virus test after the Pap smear.
  • Squamous intraepithelial lesion: if the doctors detect precancerous cells, that is, cells that in the long term would transform into cervical cancer. In these cases, the doctor will request new diagnostic methods.
  • Atypical glandular cells: this variety requires other tests that the doctor will request, since it is not clear whether they are precancerous or not.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma cells: this report almost confirms the presence of a cervical cancer. It’s the most unlikely outcome, but if it occurs, it’ll require immediate consultations for treatment.

Discover: HPV: Everything You Need to Know

Woman performing Pap smear.
The results of the Pap test can determine if there are any abnormalities in the cervix. If so, it’s important to proceed with treatment.

Preparation

In order for the Pap smear to be as accurate as possible, in addition to the technical issues of taking the sample, prior preparation is essential. This will ensure that the pathologist receives cells in good condition for proper analysis.

As detailed in a Mayo Clinic publication, the basic recommendations for the days prior to sample collection – 2-3 days in advance – are as follows:

  • Don’t have sexual relations
  • Avoid using tampons
  • Don’t douche
  • Don’t use contraceptive foams
  • Reschedule the test if you are taking a drug treatment vaginally (antifungal eggs, for example)
  • Don’t use vaginal creams or powders, deodorants or perfumes

What’s more, the timing of the Pap smear regarding the patient’s menstrual cycle is also critical. Ideally, doctors should schedule sample collection about five days after menstrual bleeding ends.

Can you have sex after a Pap smear?

This is a common question among women: can I have sex after a Pap smear? The answer is yes, in most cases. In other words, immediately after leaving the place upon completing the smear, the woman could resume her normal sex life.

However, you must be aware that some symptoms may occur after undergoing a Pap smear. According to Johns Hopkins University, symptoms could be the following:

  • Bleeding: A bit is normal, but if it’s excessive, you must consult your physician – in both cases, it can affect your sex drive.
  • Appearance of fluids with a bad smell
  • Fever or chills
  • Abdominal pain

Except in the case of light bleeding, for other consequences of the exam, you must consult your physician. It’s important to clarify that, although these may occur, the exam usually doesn’t leave these effects or consequences.

Sex after the pap smear: it depends on each woman

In conclusion, the possibility of having sex after the Pap smear actually depends on each woman. If everything goes as planned, there are no contraindications; the patient can resume her normal life. However, it’s necessary to consult the physician in the cases described above.

  • Naucler, P., Ryd, W., Törnberg, S., Strand, A., Wadell, G., Elfgren, K., … Dillner, J. (2008, February). Human papillomavirus and papanicolaou tests to screen for cervical cancer. Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.ogx.0000300960.25188.fa
  • Naib ZM. Pap Test. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 178. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK287/
  • Pap Test. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/pap-test
  • Prueba de Papanicolaou. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/tests-procedures/pap-smear/about/pac-20394841
  • Virus del papiloma humano. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/hpv.html