Pap smears are tests designed to help screen for cervical cancer. But despite the fact that all women should get these, lesbian and bisexual women have fewer pap smears than do straight women.
All girls should start getting pap smears by the time they turn 21, or when they first become sexually active, whatever their sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, young lesbian and bisexual women aren't getting pap smears as frequently as they need. According to a study published in the March, 2011, Journal of Adolescent Health only 70% of young lesbian women had gotten a Pap smear in the previous year, while 88% of straight women had. The study's authors suggest that this is both because young lesbian and bisexual women don't think they need to have this screening and also because many are not comfortable talking to their doctors about their sexual health.
Pap smears look for changes on the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer. Generally, cervical cancer is caused by a strain of a virus called HPV. HPV can be passed through skin to skin contact, so women who have sex with women have a greater chance of contracting that infection from their female partners than they do of contracting things like HIV, chlamydia and gonnorrhea, which are spread through body fluids.
The guide to women's health explains that, "A Pap smear only takes a few moments and is a part of a routine pelvic examination. You will be asked to lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet apart. Your clinician will insert a speculum into the vagina so that the cervix can be seen. Your clinician will use a special swab, brush, or stick to wipe off cells from inside the opening of the cervix and from the outer part of the cervix. These cells are smeared onto a microscope slide and taken for analysis."
One of the great things about pap smears is that they can detect changes in cells long before they become cancerous. This allows the pre-cancerous cells to be removed before they become deadly.
But HPV and cervical cancer are not the only reasons fora a girl to see the gyno. If a girl has any gynecological issues (heavy, crampy periods, for example or other medical conditions) then it's wise to see a gyno even if she has never had sex and is under 21.