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How to Do a Vaginal Self-Exam

by Lauren MitchellPEP Young Women's Leadership Council

Why look at your vagina?  For most women, only their gynecologists and their partners have looked closely at their anatomy, but there are lots of good reasons to do a self-exam: 

It’s YOUR body, and you have the right to know what it looks like.

Knowledge is power! By knowing what is normal for you, you can keep an eye on anything that doesn’t look normal.It’s best to find a time when you’re not on your period to do the exam. Your cervix will be more or less visible depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. 

Below is a list of supplies you’ll need to do the self-exam.  

  • A plastic speculum! You can get them online from Feminist Women’s Health Center - www.fwhc.org - they also sell kits that have everything you need to do a self-exam. You can also get a speculum from Amazon.com or your local medical supply store. Unless you’ve had a baby, you probably want a size small.
  • A handheld mirror or a small mirror that you can put in front of you.
  • A flashlight
  • Lubricant - we recommend using a water-based lube such as KY jelly or slippery stuff. There is usually lube for sale at your local drugstore. You can also just use water!

•    Start off by doing a visual exam of your outer genitalia, so you can get comfortable.  In a room with good light, hold a mirror with your non-dominant hand, and with your dominant hand, walk two fingers around to check the inner and outer labias.

•    View the three main parts of the vagina.  For the introitus (vaginal opening) pull down, for the urethra (where urine comes from) pull the inner labia out to the sides a little bit, for the clitoris move up to the hood (it’s a piece of skin right at the top), and pull up.

•    Now that you’ve gotten acquainted with what your vagina looks like, you can start the self-speculum exam.  If you’re nervous, go slowly and remember that its YOUR body.

•    Pick up the speculum and spread lubrication around the bills so you can feel for any cracks or tears in the plastic.

•    Before you start, practice opening and closing the speculum; and make sure you understand how to lock it open, as well as how to unlock and close the bills. Then sit comfortably; leaning back with your legs open, knees up, on a bed or couch with pillows behind you.

•    Hold the spec upside-down with the bills such that your thumb and index finger are on top and the rest of your fingers are on the bottom (kind of like a cigarette, but please don’t smoke… especially during your self-exam).  By “upside-down,” we mean that the handle is on top.

•    Position yourself in a way where you’ll be able to see the introitus (leaning back on a chair, squatting, lying down, etc.) and insert the speculum diagonally at an oblique 45-degree angle to the side, and tilting down.

•    Insert until you can insert no further.  Make sure both bills are in as far as they can go.  Open gently, until you hear one click.  Congratulations! You made it!  Take a flashlight, and a mirror and take a look at your cervix (don’t worry, the spec won’t move…much.)

•    Your cervix will look like a small donut with a very small opening in the center. The opening is called the os.

•    Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, you may not be able to see your cervix. If you can’t see it, either try switching positions or try again in a few days.

•    To remove the spec, pull out 1-3 centimeters.  Put your thumb on top of the thumb-rest, and pull up to release.  You’ll hear another click.  Move your fingers to the same position, as they were when you were inserting the spec.  Don’t close the bills; the vaginal walls will do that for you.

•    After you remove the speculum, you can do your own bimanual exam. Insert two fingers and feel your cervix.  It’ll feel like a tongue. With your other hand, press on your stomach moving from your belly-button down, and take note of when you feel jiggling on the fingers near your cervix.  Your ovaries are located abdominally, and you might be able to feel them externally.


You’re done! Congratulations. Feel free to take yourself out for ice cream!

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