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The S Word. Or what the hell is a speculum anyway

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Look! Cute kitties! OK, now go read about speculums...

Speculum. It’s a word that tends to induce sub-conscious knee-locking in most women. And to be honest, that’s no surprise. How many of us have ever even seen a speculum, let alone handled one? For most of us, the only sight we ever get of a speculum is when we catch sight of it glinting metallically in a drawer in a doctor’s office. Or, of course, a fleeting glance in the hand of a nurse before it um, disappears…

My new fun fact of the day? Speculums have actually been used way back since ancient Greek and Roman times. Seriously. They were found at Pompeii. The word ‘speculum’ actually means ‘mirror’ in Latin, which makes sense as using one allows you to see clearly. I guess one of the problems of being a woman is that so much of our anatomy is not exactly easy to view! Some women’s groups even encourage women to try using a speculum at home as a way of self-discovery and self-examination, teamed with a torch and a mirror, it’s probably the only chance you’ll have of seeing your own cervix, if, y’know, you really wanted to look.

I’d always known that speculums come in at least two sizes. My last smear test, three years ago, the nurse simply couldn’t get a fix on my cervix! After a couple of minutes with her wiggling the speculum around, she declared that due to my ’tilted cervix’ she was going to have to use a ‘long speculum’.

“Er, is that normal?’ I asked?

“Absolutely.” she replied.

I mean it makes sense. Why should a speculum be a one-size-fits all device? We all come in different shapes and sizes, and so do they. So don’t get weirded out if you need a big or small or long one.

Metal speculum - warning! May be a little cold - ask for a warm one...

So, yes, what the hell is a speculum anyway? Well, it looks a little like the bill of a duck, and it’s there to help the nurse or doctor see more clearly inside your body during your smear test. Mostly speculums tend to be stainless steel, but they can be single-use plastic too. Your nurse or doctor will apply some lube to the speculum, so it easily slides inside your vagina. And yes, it will be a little cold!

This is what my mate Debs recommends - less chilly, single-use plastic.

Once inside, your doctor or nurse will open up the ‘bill’ which then locks in place to dilate the walls of your vagina so that it’s easier to examine your cervix and take a sample of cells to send to the lab to be tested. Once the sample has been taken, the speculum is unlocked and then easily slides out of your vagina. And that’s it! The mystery of the speculum solved.

PS – Oh – and yes, I plan a post about tilting cervixes… you haven’t heard the last of mine!

PPS – here’s another  cure kitty picture for being good & getting to the end of the post…


Find out more:

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Helpline: 0808 802 8000 open Monday – Friday providing information and support on a range of topics including screening concerns, screening results, cervical abnormalities, cervical cancer, treatments and survivorship issues.

The NHS cervical screening website


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