I was today years old when I learned the 'why' behind getting a pap smear. I always used to look at it as one of my annuals that I booked an appointment for, propped up my legs, braced for the discomfort of the speculum, and just did. I knew it was for my health but for some reason, it never clicked for me that a pap smear had everything to do with being preventative and was mostly about your cervix. Even as a 31-year-old who had a LEEP procedure done to remove precancerous cells nearly a decade ago, the dots never totally connected for me that ‘pap smear’ is to the cervix and cervical cancer as ‘mammogram’ is to breasts and breast cancer. Don’t come for me, but I was simply doing what I was ‘supposed’ to do without thinking of the bigger picture as it relates to my health and preventative measures like annual pap smears.
Coming to terms with that realization is actually what led me to write this piece. I realized that there was probably someone like me who was simply rolling with the punches of booking yearly doctor exams, or even someone who might not even go because they may believe going to a gynecologist is only for people who have “an issue” down there. I’m here to demystify some of the myths around pap smears. In honor of it being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, I am here to also do my part in empowering women to advocate for their health needs, especially when it comes to a form of cancer with a 92% survival rate when diagnosed in its earliest stages. And do you know the easiest way to detect cervical cancer before it becomes cancerous? If you said ‘pap smear,’ you are right on the money.
What is a pap smear?
Perhaps it's elementary, my dear Watson, but I wanted to cover all of my bases when breaking down pap smears for this piece. A pap smear, or a pap test, is short for the Papanicolaou test. It is a diagnostic procedure that tests for cervical cancer in women. A doctor takes a small instrument to brush sample cells on the cervix and then sends those samples to a lab for the results. Once the samples have been tested, a patient can either get a normal test result (which literally means everything is all good under the hood) or an abnormal result (which could signify abnormal changes found on the cervix).
Depending on your doctor, they might suggest doing a colposcopy or a biopsy to ensure that the abnormal test result is not due to the presence of precancerous cells. If it is due to precancerous cells, the next step might be scheduling a procedure like a LEEP to remove those cells from the cervix. Your gynecologist will know best in regards to formulating a treatment plan that works best for you.
How often should you be getting a pap smear?
The answer to this question may differ depending on your medical history, but Dr. Howell shares that "generally speaking, about every three years is a good frequency to get one." She also adds that every five years, it is recommended to get an HPV test for the human papillomavirus, which is what leads to cervical cancer.
While Dr. Howell suggests people visit their gynos yearly, pap smear or no pap smear, she says that ultimately your specific gynecologist will be able to tell you how often you should visit and what the plan should be if you do have an abnormal pap test result.
When should we visit the gynecologist and what should we expect?
Although there are some people who prioritize regular checkups, there are others who do not have the privilege of accessible healthcare. There are also folks who might not resort to visits with healthcare professionals unless there is a problem or an issue. Such is the case sometimes with gynecologists. As previously mentioned, Dr. Howell advises women to visit their gynecologist yearly even if they don't have a pap smear or a symptomatic health issue or concern. During those routine wellness checks with your gynos, you are able to get things done like a pelvic exam where they exam the vulva as well as the internal reproductive organs, which includes the cervix. Dr. Howell adds that during these exams, gynecologists usually "do an internal exam, apply manual pressure along the abdomen to see if you have tenderness along the uterine border, and order any other needed tests or measures, like a pelvic ultrasound."
She also shares that even if they don't go through the uncomfortable steps of giving you a pap smear, they will look at the cervix and the vaginal canal. "Think about it like getting an oil change. You gotta pop in there every now and then, especially if you are sexually active. You want to make sure you are staying on top of your pelvic health, your reproductive health, and all of that because we are getting our periods monthly, we are in our reproductive ages, and we still have our uterus that needs to be checked on."
"If we are having a lot of clotting, if we are having a lot of pain with our periods, or having missing periods or irregular periods -- those are things that we want to be updating our gynecologist on, so they can make sure nothing more serious is going on causing those symptoms," Dr. Howell concludes.
At what age should you start getting pap smears?
The most common age to start getting pap smears is 21, but typically when a patient is sexually active, they are advised to start getting pap smears then. Of note, just because you aren't sexually active doesn't mean you shouldn't be getting regular pap smears, especially if you are over the age of 21.
This brings us to our next question and answer...
Should you get a pap smear even if you're not sexually active?
Sometimes, we look at doctor's visits from a lens of reactivity versus proactivity. Such is the case with gyno appointments. Sexual activity and/or vaginal health issues are not a prerequisite for gynecologist visits. But Dr. Howell encourages everyone to see the importance of getting pap smears, and even HPV tests, even if you aren't sexually active. "HPV can be transferred, not just from internal sources [like the penis and vagina] but you can get HPV just from skin-to-skin contact."
She states this to emphasize the point that sex is not the only way to get HPV, which is ultimately what leads to cervical cancer. "You can literally just have someone’s skin who has HPV contact your skin, then you are at risk of getting it. There are HPV cells that live on the vulva, that live on the penis, that live on the groin. There’s also oral HPV," she continues, "You don’t have to have sex to get it. So be aware of that."
HPV can even be transferred from mother to child through the vaginal tract, so children can get it from their mothers if their mothers have it. The bottom line is, just because you aren't sexually active doesn't mean you shouldn't be getting pap smears and regularly testing for HPV.
How can you advocate for your cervical health in relationships and gyno visits?
If you are sexually active, the number one thing you can do to better support your cervical health is to use protection. Dr. Howell notes that using condoms during sex is "one of the most basic, affordable, and safe ways" to guard the cervix. By practicing safe sex "we are limiting the amount of exposure to bodily fluids and bacteria on someone’s genital skin that can impact our cervix. Exposure to someone’s bodily fluid or [the] skin of someone who has HPV is a common way to become infected. We generally get it from another person."
In instances where women want to feel empowered to go beyond the routine pap smear, Dr. Howell wants you to advocate for your cervical health by doing your research and talking to your doctor openly in order to feel confident and comfortable with your cervical health status.
What are some holistic ways to support your cervical health?
Supporting your cervical health can go beyond regular doctor visits, getting pap smears, and using protection during sex. It also looks like having strong sexual health boundaries overall, as well as making better lifestyle choices. "If our diet is filled with more inflammatory foods than anti-inflammatory foods, then that is not going to necessarily help the cervix. So like processed foods, those things are more inflammatory than fresh foods."
For that reason, Dr. Howell suggests doing things like adding "color to your diet." She goes on to say, "You want to make sure that you are getting more color in your diet from plants, which help us to fight inflammation and fight disease. That’s the whole purpose of food, to nourish our bodies." Speaking of diet, another key to nourishing your cervical health is by decreasing your sugar intake. "When I am saying sugar, I am talking about artificial sugar like the sugar that we are putting in our coffee, or the sugar that is in juice; it’s concentrated into one small cup. Artificial sugar and high amounts of it, have been associated with just more inflammation in the body, which includes the cervix."
In addition to watching the amount of sugar you consume, she suggests observing your vitamin A and vitamin D levels as they are "protective for the cervix." "We are eating every day anyway, so you might as well eat foods that help your body to thrive." And for a beta-carotene-rich food that is accessible as it is nutritious, Dr. Howell looks to carrots and says one carrot a day is enough to assist with vitamin A levels which are necessary for cervical health.
As a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, Dr. Howell knows the importance of considering the pelvic floor as a way to support the cervix. "Your pelvic floor includes all the muscles that support your cervix and supports your uterus to prevent prolapse. So, checking in on your pelvic floor for pelvic floor symptoms, like urinary leakage, a bulge in the vagina, a 'heaviness' in your vagina, or constipation -- these are things you want to consider in terms of your pelvic floor. Seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist is crucial to helping you overcome those symptoms and take care of your pelvic floor muscles, which are by far the most important muscle group for supporting the position of your cervix and uterus."
For more of Dr. Howell, follow her on Instagram @vaginarehabdoctor.
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Imma tell y’all what — it seems like not one week goes by when I don’t see some sort of so-called term that has me like, “What in the world?” For instance, when I first stumbled upon “self-partnering,” honestly, I laughed. Then shared it with some other single people as well as married folks I know. And I kid you not, every individual was like, “What the heck does that mean?” When I told them that it was yet, one more way to seemingly define single living, basically everyone’s follow-up was, “Oh, brother.”
Why can’t (more) singles just be single and be okay with that? Good Lord. Why does there need to be some sort of relational play-on-words to make it sound like we’re with someone — even if we’re not?
Now masturdating? Even though it’s not even close to being a “real” word, it’s something that also brought a laugh outta me — although it was then followed by a genuine smile. The laugh because I almost immediately caught the play-on-words. The smile was due to the intention behind it all.
If you’re not familiar with what masturdating is and you’re curious about why you should even care, take a few moments to at least skim through what it’s about and why I think participating, as a single person, is a pretty cool (and effective) concept.
Masturdate: a date w oneself
What’s Masturdating All About?
Masturdating. Okay, so let the word marinate for just a moment. What does it sound like? Yeah…exactly. And since a huge part of masturbation centers around self-pleasure, it’s cool to explore how “self-dating” could produce similar (as far as pleasure is concerned in a broader sense) results. Because masturdating is all about spending quality time with yourself, pampering yourself, treating yourself— and yes, taking yourself out on dates.
Any of you who may think that masturdating is a consolation prize — and a pitiful one at that — for not being able to go out with another human being or get that dream $200 first date that social media was all in a tizzy about last year (bookmark that) — personally, I think that you’re the demographic who needs to try out masturdating first and the most. Why? Off top, I’ll share my three good reasons.
3 Reasons To Strongly Consider Masturdating
1. It’s an intimate way to get to know yourself better. I’ve been working with couples for a pretty long time at this point and if there’s a pattern that I see arise, OFTEN, it’s that two people are oftentimes so busy trying to “find their person” that they didn’t even know who they were. As a direct result, they found themselves in a relationship with someone who only complemented the “kiddie pool version” of who they were.
That’s why it can be so beneficial to spend time getting to know yourself on the “deep end” of things: what makes you tick, what your passions are, what you want most out of life, what are your interests beyond obvious things — and masturdating can help you to discover all of this. Whether it’s traveling alone or taking out a weekend to drink some wine and journal, the more you get to know yourself, the clearer you’ll be about who complements you on a romantic and friendship level.
2. It will definitely help to boost your confidence levels. I guess since I’m an ambivert, I don’t really get why people freak out at the mere thought of going to a restaurant or movie alone. Personally, I think it requires a helluva lot more energy and gumption to wait around and plan stuff with other people (#Elmoshrug). However, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, there’s no way around the fact that the more comfortable you get with doing things alone, the more your confidence levels will increase — no, soar — because of it.
One article that I read on the topic said that doing things alone can make you more creative, improve your mental health, and help you to be totally okay with being alone (so that you’re not “needy” for other people’s attention). A psychotherapist from a New York Times article on the benefits of spending time alone said, “Getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout.” And when you’re able to stare negativity in its face without flinching, how could that not make you bolder, more self-secure, and hopeful about your life?
3. It will teach you to value your time more effectively. In every facet of your world, you’re gonna operate from a healthier place if you’re operating from a “full cup” rather than an empty one. When it comes to this topic, think about it — if you’re constantly waiting on someone to call you to go out or wishing for a dream date with some guy, all you’re doing is wasting precious time that you could be spending taking a cooking class or hell, hiring a chef to make you dinner at your own home.
Indeed, waiting has two sides to it: when it’s in the form of patience, it is indeed a virtue, yet when it’s wrapped up in the notion that you’re not really living life unless you have an audience…it is totally working against you. Choose wisely.
10 Solo Date Ideas To Help You To “Master” Masturdating
So, what if you’re someone who has either never considered actually masturdating before or you don’t really know what to do beyond dinner and the movies? Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Attend a workshop or masterclass that you’re interested in. If there’s something that you’ve always wanted to learn, sign up for a workshop or masterclass. The cool thing about this option is there are probably some in your city, as well as some that you can find online (like here) that are convenient and affordable.
2. Binge-read at a local coffee shop. Aside from their coziness and oftentimes inviting scents, I once read that a lot of us gravitate to coffee shops because we can be around people without having to actually socialize with them. So, if you want to “hang out” while still being able to enjoy a bit of solitude, take a book that you’ve been trying to finish to a local coffee shop, order your favorite latte, and sit in a big-ass comfy chair. Usually, you can sit there for hours, and the staff will be just fine with it (another bonus).
3. Have a spa day in the next town. You can never go wrong with a spa day. And while going with a friend can be fun, sometimes there’s too much talking transpiring to be able to fully chill out and relax. So, go off of the grid, get a change of scenery, and hit up a spa in the next city (or town). There are lots of studies out here supporting that day trips or “daycations” can actually be really good for your long-term health and well-being.
4. See a community play. Some of the best solo dates that I’ve ever been on consisted of taking in some of the local arts in my city. What’s really cool about this particular option is, oftentimes, they are extremely inexpensive, if not totally free of charge (in exchange for making a donation or putting money into a tip jar).
5. Plan a trip. Whenever people say something along the lines of, “If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed,” I know that they low-key have some (additional) healing to do from past disappointments. There’s simply too much intel out here to support that anticipation (of good stuff) makes us more motivated and optimistic, keeps our dopamine levels up, and makes life more exciting overall.
Since traveling alone is more cost-effective, gives you the freedom to do whatever you want (when you want), and increases the possibility of meeting new people and having new experiences on your journey — why not devote a day this weekend to planning a solo trip? All the way around, it’s good for you.
6. Try your hand at your own “$200 date.” Uh-huh. Roll your eyes if you want to, but it’s real easy to talk left about how a man should be able to just drop $200 like it’s nothing…until you actually try to do it. So yes, while taking yourself out on this type of date could serve as a bit of a reality check, it can also “scratch the itch” of waiting on some dude to do it for you. It’s also way less emotionally draining because, at least when you’re taking your own self out, it’s guaranteed that you’ll enjoy the company…right?
7. DIY some pampering. When you get a chance, check out “5 Reasons You Should Unapologetically Pamper Yourself,” “Want To Love On Yourself? Try These 10 Things At Home.,” “I’ve Got Some Ways For You To Start Pampering Your Soul,” and “When's The Last Time You Actually Pampered Your Vagina?” The bottom line here is pampering is all about, not mere self-maintenance; it’s all about treating yourself to levels of EXTREME SELF-INDULGENCE. So, if nothing else tickles your fancy on this list, at least consider doing that, chile.
8. Feed your creativity. Something that I used to be really good at is art. That said, one of my goddaughters is insanely talented, so she has reminded me to tap back into it. Also, a big part of what got me into the writing world is poetry; I actually used to be a house poet at a local spot. Sometimes, my best quality time moments with myself have been revisiting these creative sides of me — and this is definitely easier to do (and enjoy) alone.
9. Try some stargazing. When’s the last time you took a blanket into your backyard, laid down on it, and just stared at the stars for hours on end? While some say that stargazing can teach you to be mindful, others say that being in that form of nature reduces stress, while others believe that looking up at the universe at night can increase your attention span. All solid reasons to give it a shot, if you ask me.
10. DO. ABSOLUTELY. NOTHING. Let me tell you something that nobody will ever be able to make me feel bad about: doing absolutely nothing. I’ve got data to back me up. Good Housekeeping shares that doing nothing can help you decide how you want to respond or react to certain things. I like howThe Guardian says that taking this approach helps you to regain control of what you give your attention to.
TIME magazine says that it can ultimately make you more productive.BBC offers up that it can help you tap into your ingenuity.Henry Ford Health says that it can make you kinder and a better problem-solver. So, if you want to invest in yourself, do nothing sometimes.
Closing Thoughts from the Lovely Javicia Leslie
While some of y'all may know Javicia Leslie from being the former Batwoman, I discovered her back in the day from the indie series Chef Julian (and yes, "Julian" was right to say that "Mo" looks like Tatyana Ali...the real ones know). Sometimes I'll hop on her IG to see what she's got going on and this story popped up within a few hours of me penning this...so, I took it as hella confirmation.
TREAT YO SELF. WAIT FOR NO ONE.
WAIT FOR NO ONE. TREAT YO SELF.
RINSE AND REPEAT.
Sooo…what kind of masturdating plans do you have for this coming weekend? While going out with others has its perks, hanging out with yourself has a ton of ‘em too. Enjoy!
No…for real. ENJOY!
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