Why was the recommended age for first Pap test changed to 21?
Someone asked us:
can you tell me why pap smears are recommended once you turn 21? what is it about being 21 that means you should get a pap smear? i have been told it’s because of the assumption that most people will be having sex by that age. i am asexual and do not nor will i ever have penetrative sex. is it still necessary for me to get a pap smear? i know virgins can develop cervical cancer but the risk is very very low. i am autistic and the procedure would be traumatic for me so i want to avoid it if i can
The recommendations were moved to a few years later in life because researchers learned that it takes several years for precancerous cells to show up (generally after exposure to HPV). Age 21 is the very earliest when researchers started to see precancerous cells begin to grow. After that, you should get Pap tests about every three years, although some people need them more frequently. Pap tests are recommended regardless of whether a person has penetrative sex because HPV can be passed by genital skin-to-skin, and oral sexual contact too.
It’s a good idea to tell your doctor or nurse about your concerns; many providers understand that patients are nervous about Pap tests and will do their best to make the exam as comfortable as possible. Learn more about what it’s like to go do the doctor.
Hope this helps!
-Mylanie at Planned Parenthood