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The ‘virgin speculum’: proof that medicine is still rife with outrageous myths about women

An invitation to a cervical screening test upon your 25th birthday has become a necessary but often unwanted coming-of-age present. Despite years of education and advocacy about the benefits of screening, many women still do not attend. About 16 million women in the UK aged 25-64 are eligible for testing, but only 11.2 million took a test in 2022, the lowest level in a decade.

There unfortunately remains a false narrative that there are good reasons to be nervous about cervical screening tests. In reality, the test is not physically painful for the vast majority of women, although it can be a bit uncomfortable. However, the test can be needlessly emotionally painful, and for no good reason. This is in part because some women go through the experience of sitting with legs spread apart and “private parts” out, and then hear the nurse call for “the virgin speculum” to be used.

This is the archaic and unnecessarily sexualised term for the extra-small speculum. It should have no place being used in 2023, and it clearly creates feelings of vulnerability.

Next week it is Cervical Cancer Awareness week, and campaigners are hoping to shine a light on barriers to cervical screening testing that must be removed.

By creating feelings of vulnerability around testing, we are allowing cervical cancer to continue to go undetected. All women should be aware of the importance of attending their cervical screening test and do so with confidence, regardless of their sexual status. This will play a valuable role in reducing the mortality rate.

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Source: The Guardian, 19 January 2023

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