My earliest memory of the word pap smear (test), was a result of eavesdropping on a conversation not meant for my 10 year old ears. The lady discussing it had recently taken the test, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for her. I never forgot that story and how I promised myself never to take that test.
I’m now 24 years, although I changed my mind years ago towards pap test, I still haven’t taken it.
From doing some research I discovered that if you’ve had a vagina for 21 to 65 years and have had sex, even if it is only been with women. Then you should be doing a pap test at least once in three years.
A pap smear was discovered by and named after Dr Papanicolaou a Greek-born American scientist. It is a screening tool to find early warning signs that cancer might develop in the cervix (the neck of the womb) in future. The pap test is not for diagnosing cancer, but rather, for finding early changes which might become cancer. Another way of protecting yourself from cervical cancer is to avoid the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a major cause of cervical cancer and one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI). Chances of getting cervical cancer increase if you start having sex before age 18, you or your partner have multiple sex partners and if you have or have had an STI. About 75 percent of sexually active people will get HPV sometime in their life, and since it rarely shows any symptoms most people never know they have it.
I also discovered that doctors describe pap smear as a simple and quick test where the patient lies on an exam table. The doctor puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix before using a special stick or brush to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix. The cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to a lab for examination. They also agree that while usually painless, a pap test can be uncomfortable for some women.
The subject of pap smear was discussed by Inkanyiso crew with 8 butch lesbians, a show of hands revealed that most had not done a pap smear. The question that was asked was whether our sexuality has any bearing on the matter. I posed this question to fellow butches and while some chose not to participate, most were open on the subject.
Mazet Nzimande says although she’s been thinking about doing the pap test, she has not taken any action. However she says her sexuality has nothing to do with not testing, she gets nervous and is shy. But says its normal nerves “it would be much easier if I go with my mother, a very close friend or a partner for some moral support”.
Anele Khaba like Mazet has been contemplating the test, especially since she started experiencing some pains. She says its important to take care of our bodies, especially if a person is considering having kids in future.
Lerato Mthombeni was no different, with plans to go for the pap smear but doesn’t want to do it alone. She says some lesbians are not planning on falling pregnant and don’t see the point of doing such test.
Nontobeko Buthelezi differed, saying that being butch has a huge influence on doing things like pap smear. “Being butch is associated with being masculine and procedures like pap test are viewed as girly or feminine, but I will do the test” says Buthelezi.
Busi was part of a door to door campaign encouraging people to go for Pap smears, but admits to have never tested. She doesn’t see a link between her sexuality and reluctance to test, “cancer is very dangerous and should be taken seriously” she concludes.
A 30 year old who prefers not to be named, did the test six years ago. ” My sexuality has no influence on the matter, I have to take care of my health” that is what gave me the courage to go alone she says.
“I have lost relatives to cervical cancer, I’m going to do the test before the year ends”. Manyelang Ntshong has never done the test and says it is more about lack of courage than her sexuality. “I’d feel more comfortable seeing a female gynaecologist for obvious reasons, more education should be provided for most butch lesbians, we all need to be checked no matter how ‘hard core’ one might be. It might just save a life” concludes Ntshong.
Previous articles by Lerato
Also contributed articles in Blacklooks and Freegender sites