While not recommended by medical professionals, some women give themselves vaginal and cervical self-exams. Supporters of these exams say they help women learn what is normal, allowing women to more quickly recognize changes – a way that you can get to know your body better.
Why a Vaginal Self-Exam Isn’t a Substitute for Professional Evaluation
A self-exam does not replace your annual professional pelvic exam, during which the Pap smear and other tests can detect important microscopic changes. If you are concerned about cervical cancer or human papillomavirus (HPV), you should see a medical professional rather than trying to examine yourself.
A vaginal self-exam is not the same as a vulvar examination. When using the term ‘vagina,’ many people think of the external genitals; however, examining the outside area would be performing a vulvar exam. Vulvar exams are easier to perform and can detect physical abnormalities that could be caused by genital herpes or HPV. If you see something abnormal on or near your vulva or labia, you should follow up with your doctor for appropriate testing.
Steps in Performing a Vaginal Self-Exam
- You will need a strong light such as a flashlight, a mirror, a vaginal lubricant, antiseptic soap or alcohol, and a plastic speculum. Speculums are available at pharmacies that sell medical supplies.
- Find a place to relax. This can be the floor or your couch, wherever you can feel comfortable.
- Lie back.
- Bend your knees, with your feet wide apart.
- Lubricate the speculum, and insert it into your vagina in the closed position. Experiment to find the most comfortable position for inserting the speculum.
- Once the speculum is inserted, grab the shorter section of the handle and firmly pull it toward you until it opens inside your vagina.
- Push down on the outside section until you hear a click while keeping a firm hold on the speculum. The speculum is now locked in place.
- Place the mirror at your feet so that you can see your vagina. Move the speculum, while shining the flashlight into the mirror, until you can see your cervix and vaginal walls in the mirror.
- Take note of the color of your cervix, as well as any vaginal secretions.
- Remove the speculum, after your examination is complete, either in the closed or open position whichever is most comfortable for you.
- Thoroughly wash the speculum with antiseptic soap or alcohol and store for your next self-exam.
Tips and Tricks
Some women may find it easier to have a friend or partner help by holding the mirror. A normal cervix looks wet, pink, and has a bulb-like shape. The cervix of pregnant women has a blue tint. Vaginal secretions change throughout the month. Understanding the changes your body goes through can help you detect your fertile periods, as well as abnormalities. Performing an exam while menstruating may be more difficult than other times during the month. It may be hard to visualize any changes or abnormalities, as well.
Performing a vaginal self-exam is neither recommended nor is it valuable for detecting any abnormal cervical cells. These abnormal cells can only be detected through regular Pap smears.