Medical professionals recommend that a person should avoid having sex for 2 days before getting a Pap smear. People should also avoid douching, applying any contraception or medication creams in the vagina, or using tampons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should avoid having sex before getting a Pap smear. This is because it may affect the results.

This article will explain how long a person should avoid sex before getting a Pap smear, and it will answer some frequently asked questions about Pap smears and sexual activity.

It will also provide an overview of a Pap smear, including how to prepare and what results a person can expect.

A person shaking hands with a healthcare professional after undergoing a Pap smear.Share on Pinterest
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People should avoid sex for at least 24 hours before getting a Pap smear, as sex may interfere with the test and its results. Having sexual intercourse 24 hours before a Pap smear can cause the vaginal tissue to become inflamed.

The CDC suggests a person should allow 2 days without having sex before attending the appointment.

Can a person have sex with a protection method before a Pap smear?

People should avoid using birth control foams, creams, or jellies, including spermicide, before a Pap smear. This is because they can hide any atypical cells that are present or alter the pH of the cells.

Using barrier protection methods, such as condoms, can also impact the results of a Pap smear. Some condoms are coated with spermicide.

To get more accurate results, people should avoid having sex for 2 days or at least 24 hours before a Pap smear, regardless of the type of protection they use.

If a person has had sex before a Pap smear, they should go to the appointment as planned and let the doctor know.

The doctor can make a note that a person has had sex, which can be taken into account when the results come back.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions related to Pap smears and sexual activity.

Does a person need to avoid oral sex before a Pap smear?

To reduce the chance of interfering with the results of a Pap smear, doctors may recommend avoiding all sexual activity, including oral sex.

If a person is unsure about which sexual activities they should avoid before a Pap smear, they should talk with a healthcare professional.

Does a person need to avoid masturbation before a Pap smear?

If people masturbate before a Pap smear, they should avoid penetrative masturbation. This may include inserting the fingers or a sex toy into the vagina.

Penetration may lead to tissue inflammation in the vagina, which can interfere with the Pap smear.

What other factors may interfere with the results of a Pap smear?

Before a Pap smear, people should avoid:

  • douching, as this can wash away any surface cells
  • using a tampon
  • using any creams or medications in the vagina

If possible, people should also schedule the test for a time when they are not menstruating.

A Pap smear is a test that a doctor or nurse performs to check for the presence of any atypical cells that might lead to cancer.

According to updated guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), screening should begin when a person is 21 years old. People should then get screened every 3 years.

People ages 30–65 years old may have one of several tests:

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) states that transgender men or nonbinary people should still get regular Pap smears if they have a cervix.

A person does not need to do anything to prepare for a Pap smear other than avoiding:

  • sex
  • douching
  • applying medications or creams to the vagina
  • washing the vulva with anything other than soap and water

According to the Office on Women’s Health, during the procedure, a person will lie down on their back on the exam table. The doctor will then ask them to place their feet in the footrests.

The doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated tool called a “speculum” in the vagina, which allows them to see the cervix.

Using a special stick or soft brush, they will take a few cells from the surface of the cervix and inside the vagina.

They will send this sample to the lab for testing.

Following the Pap smear, a person may experience slight bleeding or spotting. A person may wish to wear a pad for any spotting that might happen.

A person should inform a doctor if they experience:

  • bleeding that is more than spotting
  • chills or fever
  • foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • severe pain in the abdominal area

These symptoms may be a sign of infection.

Test results can show one of three things:

  • Normal: This means that there were no atypical cells present at the cervix.
  • Unclear: A doctor may also refer to this as inconclusive or ASC-US, which stands for atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance. There is a possibility that the cervical cells might be atypical. The doctor will offer advice on next steps.
  • Abnormal: The cervix may have atypical cells. This does not mean that a person has cervical cancer. Minor changes may resolve without treatment. Serious changes may be precancerous, which means that they can develop into cancer without treatment. It is rare that a Pap smear will show that a person has cancer. A person may need a second Pap smear to confirm. Cell changes can resolve on their own.

The CDC recommends that a person avoids having sex for 2 days before a Pap smear. However, if a person has had sex, they should mention this to the doctor before they perform the test.

People should also avoid douching, using tampons, or applying birth control creams, jellies, or foams to the vagina.

Pap smears play a key role in preventing cervical cancer. A person should see a gynecologist once every 3 years. This enables doctors to find atypical cells and provide treatment, if necessary.