Repeat after me: no penetrative sex 24 hours before a pap smear! It seems like a pretty intense rule, but there's a serious reason we should pay attention, and it can have serious implications for our health.
"You don't want [sperm] hanging around making it difficult for your OB/GYN to interpret the results. Maybe schedule some intimacy time for after," said Dr. Lisa Masterson, an OB-GYN.
A pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer that checks for abnormal cells taken from the cervix. It's a really important test we should never skip or half-ass, because a pap smear can also check for HPV. "The cells from the cervix are then evaluated by a pathologist. When the pap smear is sent to the pathologist for testing, it's always best not to have any interfering cells, including yeast, bacteria, or other unnecessary inflammation that can make the results less reliable," said Dr. Sherry Ross, author of She-Ology. The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health.
If you're having sex with a new partner, you will have an increased likelihood of new inflammation or a vaginal infection, which you want to avoid right before a pap smear. "Symptoms for a vaginal infection may take a day or two to appear, so pay attention to any unusual discomfort in the vagina. If you feel the coast is clear and there are no signs of an infection, you can definitely get a pap smear test," Dr. Ross said.
When in doubt, postpone your pap smear a few days to ensure there are not any unnecessary vaginal obstacles that can lead to a false positive result.
If you have a pap smear scheduled during your period, blood can also make the results inaccurate. "If there are signs of bleeding, in the form of red blood cells, on the slide being evaluated, the normal cells from the cervix may be more difficult to evaluate," Dr. Ross said. If you're seeing the doctor for a problem like irregular bleeding, however, then go ahead with the appointment, but if it is routine, then reschedule.
Ultimately, you just don't want to blur the view. "You don't want anything in there that would make it difficult to look at the cervical cell sample or that might obscure abnormal cells," Dr. Masterson said.
That means it's not just the sperm that may be there, but also any of your other substances, such as lube. "So actually it's not just the swimmers, but lubricants or spermicide. They could wear a condom, because it's not the act, but the fluids, so that also goes for not douching or using any vaginal medications as well," Dr. Masterson said.