Can You Be Intimate Right Before Getting A Pap Smear?

It's probably pretty safe to say that no one looks forward to going in for their annual gynecological exam, but it's simply a must to stay healthy. While the focus tends to fall on getting a pap smear, the annual appointment also includes a breast exam — possibly a referral to book breast cancer screening — screening for sexually transmitted diseases including HPV, and discussion around sexual health and birth control.


A pap smear helps identify cervical cancer, one of the leading cancers in young women. It can also find changes in the cervix and abnormal cells which may be precancers. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should start having pap smears when they are 21, about every three years, and continue until age 65 or older.

When performed correctly, a pap smear doesn't hurt. Your healthcare provider will insert a speculum into your vagina to slightly widen it and insert a swab or cervical brush through the speculum to gather cervical cells (via Mayo Clinic). It's a quick and easy exam but there are a few precautions to take before it.

Don't have sexual intercourse before a pap smear

A pap smear collects delicate cervical cells and sends them to a lab where laboratory technologists place the sample under a microscope to inspect the cells. It's important that you get as clear and healthy a sample as possible. For this reason, you shouldn't have sex before getting a pap smear.


When vaginal fluids mix with sperm and seminal fluid, it's possible to have the cervix bathed in cells that may compromise the sample, even if the exam is the following day, per Glamour. Doctors advise patients to abstain from sex for at least 24-48 hours.

"Although most Pap tests are now done with a liquid medium that 'washes' cells and makes them easier to see, it is still possible for sperm cells to be present that make the cervical cells harder to see," Ob/Gyn Dr. Jonathan Schaffir told the outlet. You have a much higher chance of the specimen coming back as containing abnormal cells if you have sex before a pap smear. When a lab report notes abnormal cervical cells, further investigation is required.


Why sex with protection isn't helpful

Having sex while using protection also doesn't help. "Using a condom doesn't necessarily make things better," Dr. Schaffir explained to Glamour. "Even if a condom is used, the recent friction can cause inflammatory changes in vaginal and cervical cells that might be interpreted as an abnormal or 'atypical' Pap smear."


The same goes for masturbating using a vibrator or using any other invasive toy (via Healthline). Any kind of object can inflame delicate vaginal issues. Oral sex can also introduce cells to the sample that may be identified as abnormal.

Ideally, you should make a pap smear appointment for a day when you don't have your period, but if you end up having your period when you have your exam, let your healthcare provider know and they can decide whether to proceed. It's also best to avoid douching, wearing a tampon, and applying any type of medicated cream or gel to the vaginal area before a pap smear.