When you get a Pap smear, everything below the belt is on display. And, while that’s not exactly fun, it’s just a known tradeoff of staying on top of your vaginal health.
Unfortunately, some women are so uncomfortable about being that exposed that they’re avoiding or delaying getting their Pap smear, according to a new survey from British cancer charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, per the BBC. The charity polled 2,017 British women and uncovered some disturbing findings. Among other things, a third of women said they wouldn’t go to their Pap appointment if they hadn’t waxed or shaved their pubic area. The survey also found that young women are embarrassed to have their tests because of their body shape (35 percent), how their vulva looks (34 percent), and the way they smell (38 percent).
Here’s the problem: Pap smears test for cervical cancer and pre-cancerous cells that could lead to cervical cancer. If doctors catch it early, they can intervene and drastically improve the odds you'll be okay. Basically, you’re rolling the dice with your health if you purposefully miss a Pap—and nearly two-thirds of women who participated in the survey weren’t even aware of that fact.
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That prompted Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to launch the #SmearforSmear selfie campaign which encourages women to post photos on social media of themselves with smeared lipstick to raise awareness about the importance of getting your Pap smear.
According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should start getting Pap smears at age 21 and get another one every three years until they hit age 65. Women who are 30 years and older can also opt for a Pap test plus HPV test every five years instead of going every three years. (However, if you have abnormal Pap results, you may need to get screened more often.)
Of course, this survey was conducted in the U.K.—not the U.S.—but it’s not far-fetched to think that women on this side of the pond might share some similar views. Just know this: Your doctor doesn’t care how you look down there. “You don't have to shave your legs or wax your vulva,” Draion M. Burch, D.O., a board-certified ob-gyn and sexual health advisor for Astroglide, previously told Womenshealthmag.com. “I'm not paying any attention to those things.” And, if you have any concerns about how you smell down there, talk to your doctor. They can help assure you that everything is totally normal down there or, if something is off, take steps to fix it.
Bottom line: Get your Pap when you need it. It could save your life.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.