Sexual health encompasses a lot of factors that affect both our sexual function and reproduction. Although, for the most part, we need a healthcare provider to determine the status of our sexual health, some aspects can be self-assessed. In this article, we will discuss the procedures on how to do a vaginal self-exam and why it is important.
What is a Vaginal Self-Exam?
A vaginal self-exam (VSE) is one way for a woman to inspect or look at her vulva and vagina. The vulva refers to a woman’s external genitalia, which consists of the inner and outer labia (lips), the clitoris, and the vestibule or the vaginal opening.
On the other hand, the vagina connects the vulva to the cervix. Additionally, it serves as the passageway for the monthly menstrual fluid, receives the penis during the sexual intercourse, and it’s also the birth canal where the baby passes through during childbirth.
Before learning the steps on how to do a vaginal self-exam, you must first know why it’s done. Primarily, there are two reasons for VSE:
- To be more in tune with your body. VSE allows you to observe the changes in your vulva and vagina during the menstrual cycle.
- To ascertain if there are abnormalities that may need medical attention.
How to Do a Vaginal Self-Exam
Before anything else, prepare the following:
- Good lighting in the room. If you have it, have a small flashlight.
- A handheld mirror, preferably with a long handle.
- Something to prop the mirror with in front of you, like a pillow.
Make sure that the mirror and flashlight are within your reach. Wash your hands thoroughly and remove your clothing from the waist below.
Assume the proper position
Sit down with your back supported by a pillow or wall. Afterward, bend your knee in a way that your feet are close to your bottom. Finally, spread your knees and lean back a little. Since the position on how to do a vaginal self-exam is quite awkward, don’t forget to relax your pelvic muscles.
Start the examination.
Hold the mirror in front of your genital area and examine how your vulva looks like. When you’re comfortable enough, you can touch the parts of your vulva to better familiarize yourself. Take note of the following normal findings for each part:
- Labia majora and labia minora – The outer lips of the vulva (labia majora) are normally fatty and covered with hair. Additionally, they surround the labia minora (inner lips). Part of how to do a vaginal self-exam is to spread both the labia majora and minora. This is so you can see that it protects the vestibule, which is the opening of the vagina.
- Clitoris – When you spread the labia, you will also find the clitoris at the center, just below the clitoral hood. The clitoral hood is a bump of tissue just where the inner lips join above the urethral opening, where urine passes through.
- Inspect your vagina – Spread the vaginal lips gently to take a look at your vagina. You may find it easier to do this by propping the mirror and holding the flashlight. Upon observation, you’ll see that the vagina has pinkish walls and folds or ridges all over. If you are comfortable, you can also insert your fingers to feel the vaginal wall. You’ll notice that the vaginal walls feel like the roof of your mouth.
- Check your vaginal discharge – Finally, check the characteristics of your vaginal discharge. Normally, the discharge is clear to cloudy white. Additionally, the discharge may or may not have an odor, as long as it’s not foul-smelling.
Consider what’s “normal” for you
An important part of how to do a vaginal self-examination is familiarization. While you are examining the different parts of your vulva, take note of what’s normal for you. Please understand that the normal color, size, and shape, differ from one woman to another. Additionally, it also depends on the situation. When you’re aroused, for instance, the labia and the clitoris may swell.
Regularly do VSE
To find out if something out of the ordinary is happening to your external genitalia, you must regularly perform VSE. If you regularly examine your vulva and vagina, you’ll immediately know when some things are amiss.
Reminders on How to Do a Vaginal Self-Exam
Now that you know how to do a vaginal self-exam, it’s time for some reminders:
- The best time to do a VSE is between your menstrual periods.
- Do not use any cream or douche before the vaginal self-exam.
- As long as you relax your muscles, there should be little to no discomfort. If you feel pain, then there’s a possibility of a vaginal infection or the presence of sores.
- Doing vaginal self-exam is relatively safe.
- VSE should never replace a doctor’s examination, particularly a pelvic exam or a smear test.
When to See a Doctor
In the instructions on how to do a vaginal self-exam, we have discussed what the normal findings are supposed to be. If you notice anything that’s not normal, then you need to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Examples of things you must NOT find during the VSE include:
- Unusual vaginal odor
- Grey, green, yellow, or bloody vaginal discharge
- Foamy discharge
- Sores or genital warts on the vulva
- Unusual growths in the vagina
Sometimes, you may find unusual redness on the labia. If you do, think back on your past activities that might have triggered the irritation. The labia could have been irritated by recent sexual intercourse or a new feminine product. Should you find no reason for the irritation and redness, it’s still best to consult your doctor.
When you know how to do a vaginal self-exam, you’ll be more familiar with your body and be able to spot when something’s wrong right away. VSE may feel awkward at first, but when done regularly, you’ll be more at ease with it.
Learn more about Women’s Health here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.