At What Age Should You First Get a Pap Smear?

Most young women should start getting Pap smears beginning at age 21. However, if you are younger than 21 and sexually active or if you are experiencing any reproductive health concerns, you should speak to an experienced gynecologist.

It’s a common misconception, but Pap smears aren’t just for those who are sexually active. The purpose of a Pap smear is to collect cells from the cervix and screen for abnormal cells.

How can a Pap smear help protect me?

Sexual intercourse increases a woman's risk of exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer. However, a Pap smear can help protect sexually inactive women who have a family history of cervical cancer as well.

Since Pap smears became part of routine preventive care for women in the 1950s, the incidence of cervical cancer has declined by 60 percent.

When should I get my first Pap smear?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (OWH) recommends all sexually active and inactive women with no known risks should have their first Pap smear at age 21. The frequency of Pap smears varies depending on your unique risk factors or medical history.

Most women aged 21-65 years should get Pap smears (at least) every three years as part of routine preventive care—even if you are not sexually active, have received the HPV vaccine or have gone through menopause.

What happens during a Pap smear?

During a Pap smear, a doctor or nurse inserts a warmed speculum (a tool that gently opens your vagina) into your vagina and uses a special swab or soft brush to collect cells from the outside of your cervix. The cells are sent to a laboratory for testing.

The Pap smear can be completed quickly, however, it’s often included as part of your annual well-woman exam. Well-woman exams can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes and includes completing a medical history form, checking vitals (e.g., temperature, weight, blood pressure, heart and respiration rates) and conducting a physical exam of the head, neck, glands, abdomen, groin and breasts.

If you are looking for a compassionate, board-certified gynecologist to perform your first Pap smear, call Women’s Wellness Center in Huron, South Dakota, at 888-794-3708. Our women's health specialists combine up-to-date knowledge, in-depth experience and genuine caring and understanding for accurate diagnoses, effective treatment and long-lasting good health.