You Asked It — The Rap on Paps

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.

I’m 16 and I’m having sex. Should I get a Pap smear?

This is a speculum, a tool doctors use when they’re taking a Pap smear.

Great question! You actually don’t need to get a Pap smear until you’re 21, regardless of whether or not you’re sexually active. A Pap smear screens for abnormalities in the cells on your cervix, which can sometimes be signs of HPV (Human Papillomavirus) or cervical cancer. If you’re under 21, your odds of getting cervical cancer are extraordinarily low, even if you are having sex, so a Pap smear isn’t that useful for you.

In fact, getting Pap smears too early can even cause some problems. HPV is one of the things a Pap smear looks for and it’s extremely, extremely common. Pretty much everyone who has ever had sex will get HPV at some point. It’s also usually not that big of a deal because most of the time, your body will clear HPV on its own.

So what happens if doctors do Pap smears on teens? They may pick up HPV, which could put you, the patient, through a bunch of biopsies and surgeries and emotional stress that’s totally unnecessary because your body probably would have taken care of the HPV on its own.

In short: wait until you’re 21 to get a Pap smear. For now, you’re fine (although if you want to talk about birth control methods and STI prevention, come by!)

About You Asked It

At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we answer a lot of questions. Topics range from nutrition to pregnancy prevention, and everything in between. Now, we’re bringing these questions back to you with our new weekly advice column, You Asked It. Got a question? Holler at us in the comments, send us a message on Facebook or Twitter, or email us at

Missed a You Asked It post? Check out our previous Q&As: Terrible Tests, Burning Love, Is My Vagina Gross?, Bedtime Woes,Lumps & Bumps, Ugh, UTIs, Fit on the Cheap,Private Parts, Private Tests, Coitus InterrWHATus?, Modest at the Docs,Condom Problems and Boys & Shots.