You asked, we answered: Is it OK to have sex the day before a pelvic exam?

Man and woman laying in bed


Is it OK to have sex the day before a gyno appointment? Will it mess up my pap smear results?

Answered by Katherine Lessman, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist:

There are very few reasons to cancel your appointment with your doctor for a pelvic exam and Pap smear. Avoiding sexual intercourse the day before your exam is an old-school belief that, in most cases, should not affect the results of your exam. The concern in the past was that your Pap smear, which tests for cervical cancer, may not have enough cells to get accurate results. But that is very rare. Being on your period or using tampons is also OK. Douching, in general, is not good for your vaginal health and should be avoided whether you have an exam scheduled or not. 

The Pap smear is our most important tool to find abnormal cells in the cervix that could become cancer. Most cervical cancers are caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, and may initially cause cervical dysplasia. These are cells that look abnormal but are not cancerous. However, they increase your risk of developing cervical cancer in the future. By treating these abnormalities early, we can prevent the development of cervical cancer. 

You should begin getting Pap smears once you become sexually active or by age 21. The frequency of your Pap smear will depend on your age, risk factors and results of previous tests. 

Sexual intercourse will also have no bearing on your pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is done to check the health of the vagina, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix. During a pelvic exam, your doctor will place one or two fingers inside the vagina and use the other hand to gently press down on the lower abdominal area to feel for any abnormalities. While you may have a little discomfort, a pelvic exam should not be painful.

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