Can You Have Sex Before a Pap Smear?

A Pap smear, or Pap test, is an important screening tool for cervical cancer. The test checks for precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix, which is the opening of the uterus. It does not screen for ovarian cancer or any other gynecologic cancer.

The procedure consists of cells from the cervix being gently collected and then examined in a lab for any abnormalities. This is a routine test done in your doctor’s office. It’s generally painless, although some people may have mild discomfort.

Because the Pap smear checks the cells of the cervix and is sensitive to any abnormalities or inflammation, it’s generally recommended not to have sex before a Pap smear.

Avoiding sex before the procedure reduces the risk of an abnormal result due to inflammation or discharge related to sexual activity.

Can you have sex right before a Pap smear?

No, you should not have sex right before a Pap smear.

Sex can irritate the skin of the cervix, inflame vaginal tissue, and cause discharge that can obscure findings or lead to an abnormal test result.

If you do have sex right before a Pap smear, tell your doctor before the Pap.

They’ll likely still do the Pap smear, and that information can put in perspective next steps if there is an abnormal result. If all other Paps have been normal, and there isn’t a specific concern about the cervix, your doctor may not reschedule the test.

If there are concerns for some reason, your doctor might want to reschedule your appointment or do a follow-up Pap smear when you have not had sex before the exam.

Can you have sex the night before a Pap smear?

It’s not recommended to have sex the night before a Pap smear.

As with sex right before a Pap smear, sex can inflame the tissues or cause discharge, which may cause an abnormal test result.

Can you have protected sex before a Pap smear?

Even sex with a condom or other barrier method isn’t recommended before a Pap smear.

Sex, using a barrier method or not, can cause inflammation of the vaginal tissue or irritation, possibly causing an abnormal result.

Can you have oral sex before a Pap smear?

Any sexual activity is not recommended, including oral sex.

It’s likely best to avoid penetrative masturbation, too, even with a barrier method like a condom. Penetrative masturbation could still cause trauma to the cells on the cervix and affect your results.

Some doctors may have differing opinions, though. If you have any questions, call your doctor.

How many days before a Pap smear can you have sex?

There are varying answers, but the consensus is to not have sex 24 to 48 hours before a Pap smear. This allows time for any inflammation to resolve, and any discharge to be expelled.

How to prepare for a Pap smear

For the most part, you don’t need to do anything to prepare for a Pap smear.

When you get to the appointment, let your doctor know about any medications and supplements you may be taking. If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, let them know, too.

In addition to not having sex before a Pap smear, do not use the following for 2 to 3 days before your appointment:

  • vaginal medicines
  • spermicidal foams or jellies
  • douches

If you have your period on the day of the Pap smear, call your doctor’s office. Due to improvements in how Pap tests are processed, it’s possible that as long as there isn’t a significant amount of blood, it won’t cause an inadequate sample.

But it’s best to leave it up to the doctor. They might want to reschedule, since the results could be less accurate.

A Pap smear can be a little uncomfortable, but it’s not painful and it’s over fairly quickly. You’ll lie on your back on an exam table with your feet in stirrups.

Your doctor will place a speculum into your vagina. This tool holds open the vaginal walls and lets your doctor get to your cervix. They will then collect a sample of cells from your cervix. The sample will be sent to a lab to check for abnormal cells.

What to know about results

If you get an abnormal Pap test result, don’t panic. It does not automatically mean you have cancer. There may not even be anything wrong.

A “normal” Pap means there’s no evidence of abnormal cells and nothing else needs to be done until your next Pap smear.

An inconclusive test result is sometimes called ASC-US, or atypical cells of undetermined significance. This simply means the cells aren’t normal, but not really abnormal, either. Sometimes a bad sample of cells can lead to this, like if you recently had sex or douched.

An abnormal result means changes were detected in cervical cells, but again, that doesn’t automatically mean cancer. Reasons for an abnormal result can include:

  • inflammation
  • infection
  • herpes
  • trichomoniasis
  • HPV

Depending on how the cells look under a microscope, your doctor may want to do a cervical biopsy or a follow-up Pap smear. Your doctor will go over any specifics of your results and discuss with you any next steps.

If you don’t understand the results or have questions about them, ask your doctor for more information. Sometimes the test results are ambiguous and doctors only have so much information, but it’s best if both of you are on the same page.

The bottom line

Although there generally isn’t much preparation for a Pap smear, it’s best to avoid sex for 24 to 48 hours before your appointment.

Doing so gives your doctor the best opportunity to get accurate samples of cells and reduces the risk of an abnormal Pap because of inflammation or discharge.

If you do have sex before the Pap test, tell your doctor. They may pass that information on to the person reading the test to take that into consideration.

If the results of the test, or prior test results, are abnormal, that would determine whether you need to reschedule the appointment or need further testing.

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