For transgender people, health checks like cervical screening tests can be an anxiety-filled experience. But the introduction of a self-collection option has changed all that. Here, trans man Jeremy Wiggins shares his experience with this do-it-yourself health check.
For me, the option to self-swab for my cervical screening test was a life changer. I know I wouldn’t be alone in this and if you are going to take anything away from reading this far, I just want you to know how incredible it is that people can now self-swab for a cervical screening test. Did I mention the power of choice?
If you have handled a COVID self-swab test, a self-swab cervical screening test will be a walk in the park, without the annoying sneezing! A cervical self-swab allows for privacy; it’s simple and easy!
Finding a safe space
I have been working for years in the health space and have dedicated my career to working on improving the health of marginalised communities who experience barriers to accessing healthcare. Despite this, I can sometimes struggle to take action on prioritising my own health and wellbeing.
This is due to a number of factors, but the main one for me is that I am transgender. It can take a lot more effort for me to find the right healthcare professional, perform my own health research, prepare for the appointment, and manage communication in a way where I feel empowered and respected. Sadly, to this day it’s still not a guarantee that every healthcare professional is going to be sensitive and help create a safe and comfortable space for me to talk about my body and health needs.
I am a transgender man, assigned female at birth. Some of my healthcare needs still include issues that can be categorised into the traditional women’s health system. So, when I book a medical appointment, I need to disclose to every new provider that I have a trans history, and this adds extra emotional labour to an already stressful experience when it comes to sensitive healthcare areas. Cervical screening is one of those areas.
Distress replaced by stress-free
I can’t forget the really uncomfortable experiences I had in my 20s of having to book appointments for a cervical screening test. For me, the test was painful and often humiliating. Invasive procedures requiring internal inspection have always been a source of stress. Whether it’s an ultrasound, examination, sexual health screening or cervical screening, it is just so incredibly uncomfortable, emotionally and physically.
I remember I had booked into an appointment with a GP to have a cervical screening test and had braced myself for a harrowing experience. I couldn’t believe what I heard. I was offered the option to stand behind a curtain with a simple little swab kit and to manage it myself whilst the doctor gave me privacy and left the room. What used to be a painful and distressing experience suddenly became pain free, stress free, easy and accessible.
What used to be a painful and distressing experience suddenly became pain free, stress free, easy and accessible.
It can be done in less than a minute with a thin swab stick that you insert into yourself to collect the sample and then place into the tube afterwards. No more laying on a bed in a vulnerable position with someone looking over you as they conduct the procedure. But wait, it gets better!
Compared to the old test – the Pap test – a cervical screening test is only needed every five years (assuming the results of your test are normal) and if you’re registered, the Australian Government will send you a reminder letter, which coincidentally I received in the mail last week.
So, I won’t be wasting any energy worrying about this and I will be booking my appointment with my GP and requesting the self-collection option. I’ll be in and out of the doctor’s appointment in time to pick up my coffee on the way back to living my amazing life. Self-collection, two thumbs up!
Cervical screening tests are not just for women, they are for all people with a cervix.
The two options for cervical screening are: taking the sample yourself (self-collection), or having your healthcare provider take the sample for you.
The self-collection option is not recommended if you have unusual vaginal bleeding, pain or discharge. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
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Published September 2023
This article is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Government.