Is embarrassment the only reason to avoid your smear test?

Posted in Feminism
on January 28, 2018
#Smearforsmear cervical cancer prevention week

Embarrassed to go for a smear test

1 in 4 women don’t make an appointment for cervical screening when invited.

According to a survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 27% of those surveyed who had delayed or not attended their smear test cited embarrassment as the reason.


And that is completely understandable.

It’s also pretty much the common theme in reporting on why women don’t attend. Some of the reporting can come across a bit “silly women for being embarrassed, go and get your smear test”. 

I’ve even read articles that suggest women just ‘get over it’ and make an appointment.


And I’ve thought about it. And I’m not having it.



Too embarrassed?

If women are embarrassed about their genitals, it’s yet another  side effect of the sexist climate in which we live.

Our society shames women for how their bodies look.

How many times, as a teenage girl, did you hear teenage boys describing female genitalia in a negative way? Ridiculing, at length, the appearance, amount of hair, smell…..

It’s no wonder, then, that come the time that women are required to strip off from the waist down in front of a stranger, that they fear judgement and are, therefore, a bit embarrassed.



We’re not ‘just’ embarrassed

Then there’s the other 82% of women surveyed, who cited reasons other than embarrassment for non-attendance. And nobody is really talking about that. So, if we’re not talking about it, we’re not doing anything to help those women.

Other reasons for non-attendance included ‘just putting it off’, and worry that the procedure would be painful.


Some reporting suggests that more women would attend if they were able to get time off work, without using holiday allowance.


So, we need to educate each other more on this whole thing.

*Sweeping generalisation coming up.*


Women are not really educated about their health during their formative years. I reached 25 and had only a vague idea that HPV had something to do with cervical cancer.

Women’s sexual health is a fairly taboo subject, and not openly discussed. It certainly wasn’t when I was at school, and I’m guessing that most of what you know about your own health is knowledge you’ve gained independently over the years.


Again, some women avoid smear tests because they think (or they know) they’ll find it painful or uncomfortable.

Your experience could be transformed by the revelation that you can request a smaller speculum – not something that’s widely advertised.



A complex issue

Trauma could also be a factor in non-attendance; whether that’s sexual, medical, or any kind of assault that could leave someone feeling extra vulnerable in a smear test situation.


Some women have really poor experiences with medical professionals who have dismissed or diminished their concerns or discomfort.

I’ve never really told my own story, but I’ve personally had some good experiences with medical professionals, especially the nurses at my practice. I know, having read the stories of other women, that this is not the case for everyone.


There are other issues entangled in there to do with consent and questioning during tests.



And then, of course, there’s the fact that ethnic minority groups are less likely to attend.

AND people who have a cervix, but don’t identify as women, are pretty much overlooked when it comes to discussing factors affecting non-attendance.

Why are smear tests so embarrassing?


So, yes, a lot could be done to make it easier for women and cervix-owners(!) to attend cervical screening. And, contrary to popular belief, women aren’t avoiding smear tests ‘just’ because they’re embarrassed.


And, if they are embarrassed, that’s not their fault, so what are we going to do about it?



For more information on cervical screening, I encourage you to visit the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website.


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  • Merkitty

    I’m so glad you’ve said that there are lots of reasons women don’t attend. I was honestly getting sick of people just being like get over it and go do it, for some of us there are complicated reasons and it isn’t as easy as that.

    January 29, 2018 at 16:57 Reply
    • North

      I’m so glad you agree. With it being cervical cancer prevention week, obviously there’s a lot of press about it, and rightly so….I just thought a lot of the reporting had a bit of a derogatory tone and made it sound like women were being stupid for being embarrassed, or that embarrassment was the only reason when it clearly isn’t!
      It’s a really complicated issue and it’s so difficult, if not impossible for some women to attend.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      January 30, 2018 at 08:10 Reply
  • CaraBo

    Thank you for doing this post. I have made an informed decision not to attend. I have weighed the risks of not going with the risks associated with smear tests and decided to opt out. I 100% respect people’s choice to screen (or not) and am all for a positive awareness raising campaign. I do feel this particular campaign is pitting women against women and doesn’t feel particularly inclusive. It’s not a matter of ‘just get it done’ for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen women called “tw*ts”, being called stupid.

    I hope it’s helped some women but I also know it has made some women feel more vulnerable which I’m sure wasn’t Jo’s Trust intention. I just think there needs to be more addressing people’s barriers (if they have them) rather than this ‘I did it so you should too’ vibe that’s going around.

    January 30, 2018 at 23:59 Reply
    • North

      Thank you for reading, and for your insightful comment.

      For me, the strongest aspect of feminism is that it emphasises a woman’s right to choose. You are in charge of your own health, and your own body. I completely agree, and respect everyone’s choice to screen, or not. I think the only campaign which has any place is one which uses (as you mentioned) positive awareness-raising, and one which is factually-based, inclusive, and emphasises choice. Anything which shames women for their reasons for not screening, or which uses forceful or coercive tactics just moves into unacceptable territory, for me.

      I’m really happy that some women have incredibly positive experiences, and that some have no qualms or issue with attending screening, but I just wanted to make a point of saying that this really isn’t the case for everyone.

      Thank you again for taking the time to read the post and share your thoughts, it’s much appreciated.

      February 2, 2018 at 08:45 Reply

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