We talk about speculums when we explain what happens in a cervical screening, or talk about getting an IUD fitted. But what are speculums, and why are they used?

We’ll be talking specifically about vaginal speculums. They’re the type that are used in sexual and reproductive health. But the word speculum can also refer to any device that helps clinicians see into a hollow part of the body. This means there’s ear speculums for seeing into the ear canal, and nasal speculums for looking up the nose!

What is a vaginal speculum?

A vaginal speculum is a tool that clinicians use when they need to see or access your cervix. They are not used for standard STI tests. But if you have symptoms, one will be used so the clinician can do a thorough pelvic exam.

They look a bit like a duck's beak, and open up like one too.

For an IUD fitting, a speculum is used so the IUD can be passed through your cervix to sit in your womb. In a cervical screening, the speculum allows the clinician to see and swab your cervix.

What are speculums made of?

They can be made of metal or clear plastic. In the UK, you’re most likely to see a plastic speculum. These are single-use, disposable, and kept in a sterile bag before they’re used so you can be sure they’re clean and safe.

How can I make it more comfortable?

Speculums are used to open up the vagina, so it can feel strange when it’s being used. It might feel uncomfortable, but it should not hurt. If you feel any pain, tell your clinician straight away.

Your clinician can make the speculum more comfortable by using some lubricant when they insert it, and by warming it up under warm water before using it. You can ask for these steps as well, but it might not be possible to use lube if the clinician is taking samples. The lube can affect the samples and make them harder to test.

Modern speculums come in a range of sizes, so a clinician can find the right size for your body. Usually your clinician will start with the standard, medium size. But if you know from other appointments that you need a smaller or longer one, talk to your clinician so they can use the right size.

Try to keep relaxed during the appointment, as when your muscles tense up it can make this less comfortable. We know this could be easier said than done! So to help with staying relaxed, you might want to try deep breathing. Or ask the clinician to tell you what’s happening at each stage of the process. You can also ask if you can listen to music or use your phone to distract yourself, but do remember that the clinician might need to ask you questions during the exam.

Read our advice for preparing for a cervical screening for more tips on making an examination more comfortable.

Written by Helen Burkitt. Senior Sexual Health and Contraception Nurse
Last updated at: 03 June 2024
Published on: 27 September 2023