My pap smear experience at Marie Stopes

Updated: March 2019

A while back, I made the decision to actively take care of my reproductive health and get new glasses every two years.

I usually do regular HIV tests when I get my birth control sorted out but this time around I went to Marie Stopes to get a full wellness check-up.

Established in 1993,  Marie Stopes South Africa is the country’s largest non-profit provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare services.

Marie Stopes

I’m over 25 and that usually means it’s pap smear tiiiiiiime. The staff at Marie Stopes are friendly and really accommodating. I would recommend booking quite far in advance because it’s pretty hard to get a space once the new year starts.

In South Africa, we operate 14 centres across 7 provinces and are a Section 21 non-profit organisation recognised for the quality of our clinical services and our non-judgemental, client-friendly approach. The fees we charge for our services are cross-subsidised across our network, meaning centres are able to offer prices that best suit the communities they serve.

I know government clinics mean well, but they can be seriously hostile spaces for young women. In low-income communities (and beyond), there is an unrealistic expectation that young women should just abstain from sex to avoid pregnancy and STIs. There is far less focus on practical sex education or giving useful safe sex tips.

TW: sexual assault, trauma 

However, I have to state that getting a pap smear was super uncomfortable for me. I don’t want to scare anyone away, but it was painful and really terrifying for me.

I think mainly because I wasn’t aware that it would be that invasive.  Prior to the procedure, the nurse warned me that it would be uncomfortable – but it should really come with some trigger warnings for sexual assault survivors.

The whole procedure made me feel powerless, distant and really strange afterwards. I do understand that knowing whether I have cancerous cells or nah is important, however there should be more discussions around how incredibly sore it can be.

What packages are available?

I chose the Wellness Exam no 2 – which includes STI screenings for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. The package also included a pap smear and two HIV tests (which is routine). But if you’ve already done a pap, Marie Stopes also offers a variety of services from safe abortions to contraceptive consultations, pregnancy care and more. Not located in Cape Town? You can find a centre in an area near you.

Tips on preparing for a pap smear 

  • Take day off or go on a weekend (where possible)
  • Let someone pick you up after the procedure or take an Uber
  •  Chat to other women about their experience (where possible)
  • Have a chat with your partner about how you might feel post pap smear etc.

On the bright side – it’s really only once every couple of years?

Since I’ve gone and shared my personal experience, several other people have contacted me to ask more questions and to share their thoughts.

Hope this helps!

x A

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