Adult ISH: Pelvic Exam vs. Pap Smears

Adult ISH: Pelvic Exam vs. Pap Smears

Adult ISH is a first-of-its-kind culture and advice podcast produced entirely by folks who are almost adults. Check out all Adult ISH episodes and segments here.

Not queefing on the doctor and the duck beak tool with our  17-year-old “expert.”

Co-host Merk Nguyen gets the lowdown on the basics of pelvic exams a.k.a. (“Do I have the cervical cancer or nah” check ups) from 17-year-old YR Media correspondent Charlie Stuip. The ladies cover what the difference is between a pelvic exam and pap smear (not to be confused with bagel shmears), how American sex ed fails us, and your rights as a patient. Be sure to also check-out Charlie’s reporting on YouTube if you want to speculate how a speculum works.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 2) on iTunes and at

Merk: Today you’re going to give us the T on the P, the truth behind pelvic exams or pap smears. I guess my first question is: are those two even the same thing?

Charlie: No. I mean I thought so too. A pelvic exam is in three parts and a pap smear is the middle one. A pelvic exam in its entirety has an external exam, which is just checking out the vulva. And then the pap smear is brushing off the cervix for cells that might lead to cervical cancer. You’ve had one, right?

Merk: Yes, doctor. It was a few months ago and my mom was like “Hey, you need to go get checked! You a woman now.” And my sister was like, “Yeah! They stick this metal duck beak inside your hooha and scrape inside.” So, I go in. My doctor was super chill. It was like a plastic thing she stuck inside [my vagina]. They were kind of like duck beaks. She then stuck this long Q-tip inside of me [and] swabbed. I was like “Yo, I’m so sorry if I queef on you.” She was like, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ve had people pee on me before so you can’t do worse than that.”

Charlie: Oh my god. What you experienced was a pap smear, specifically because you mentioned a plastic tool – the speculum.

Merk: So why don’t we get into how you know all this stuff?

Charlie: There should be a preface that I’m not a medical professional. I’m a 17-year-old girl who was curious and went and talked to Dr. Vanessa Jacoby, a gynecologist practicing in San Francisco.

Merk: At one point you sat down with YR Media interns to ask them about what they did or didn’t know about pelvic exams. We’re going to play a clip here and have you unpack the things that they said.

Why and when do you get a pelvic exam?

Merk: Remind me why this is something women need to have?

Charlie: The pap smear on the pelvic exam is looking for cells that may lead to cancer. It could be life or death if you get cervical cancer or if there’s a cyst there that needs to be taken care of. 

Merk: Let’s hear some more from the interns.

Cervix Size Lies

Charlie: That’s all wrong. I don’t blame any of those girls. I love them dearly, but no surgical procedures are needed in a pelvic exam. It’s just a brushing of the cells on the surface of the cervix, which is much larger than a pencil lead.

Merk: I’m going have to Google all this stuff…I’ll admit, I’m not the best when it comes to really knowing myself down there and my mom calls me out all the time. I know [teachers] taught us general stuff in sex ed. Did the interns talk about that at all?

Charlie: We talked a little bit about education and that if we have it, it doesn’t necessarily promote openness with our bodies. My sex ed teacher told us how flowers reproduce, told us she had herpes, and then all the girls and boys were separated in different rooms and the boys talked about boners. That was sex ed.

Sex Ed and Multiple Holes!?

Merk: [Everyone might not] have access to this kind of information that you were able to get. It might be kind of obvious, but how dangerous do you think that is?

Charlie: There was the doctor at USC, he had a lot of patients who were sexually assaulted by him but they didn’t even know it. They didn’t know ‘til after they had this strange feeling that something was wrong. But they didn’t communicate it right away because they didn’t have the education. I think that’s a huge danger, specifically talking about pelvic exams.

Merk: Can you tell us about some rights you have as a patient during the exam?

Charlie: Absolutely.  First, there’s going to be a questioning section. If the questions make you uncomfortable, you can opt out. Next, changing. They should give you a gown and leave the room. If they watch, that is super weird. [The medical professional] should wear gloves [and] there should never be a time where they use more than two fingers. If you feel like they’re doing something that just seems unexpected: using more fingers than necessary or touching you in a sexual way, you can just have someone there in the room with you. You can ask for a smaller size of speculum because vaginas come in all different shapes and sizes. You can [also] leave at any time.

Merk: I didn’t know all of those things. Thanks for giving us that lowdown!

Charlie: Lowdown, nice. Don’t know if that was an intended pun?

Merk: Always an intended pun. If it seems Merky, it probably is.

Charlie: Going to give you a few less points for that one. But I like the spirit.

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