Before you get up close and personal with an examination, a little awareness of your anatomy might help. For instance, you can only see your vaginal opening – you can feel but not see inside your vagina.
Your external genitalia are referred to as ‘Vulva.’ Your vulva consists of your outer and inner labia (lips), Clitoris, Urethra (opening for urinary tract), and Vaginal opening.
You can also observe your perineum and Anus, although these are not a part of your Vulva.
To conduct a Vulva self-examination, you will need a mirror, a light source, a quiet private place, and a clean pair of hands.
Find a comfortable angle, place your mirror nearby and establish a vantage point for your examination. You can try squatting, sitting at the edge of a chair, or laying on a bed with your legs parted - whichever feels more comfortable and, of course, affords the better view.
Let the observation begin!
At first glance, you will see your Vulva.
Notice that the pubic mound or mound of Venus is soft and fatty, and you can actually feel the pubic bones beneath it. This area is generally covered in pubic hair if you choose to leave things as nature intended.
Next, notice the fatty tissue continues between your legs – and forms the two Labia Majora or outer lips of the Vulva. Note the appearance of your Labia is unique to each individual, in size, color, and shape. There is no ideal or correct look to your labia!
Now observe the inner lips or Labia Minora – for some you may need to part the outer lips to see the Labia Minora, while for some it could be partially or wholly visible depending on your unique anatomy. The Labia Minora is generally hairless and is sensitive to touch.
Gently parting your Labia Minora from the top, you will notice the inner lips join to form a soft fold of skin or hood. This skin covers the glans or the clitoris. You can slowly move this hood up and back for a better view of the glans. The glans is the most visible part of the clitoris and is the most sensitive to sexual stimulation.
If you keep your inner lips spread and pull the hood back, observe the underside of the clitoris. You may be able to just see a small dot or slit. This is the urethra or urinary opening.
Below this opening, you will observe the vaginal opening leading to your vaginal canal.
Now that you know where everything is, let’s find out what we can look for while we are there!
What to look out for?
Be on the lookout for sores or growths, which can look like warts or raised spots. There should be no redness or itchiness, or obvious signs of irritation or infection. Vaginal discharge should not have a bad odor and/or the appearance of cottage cheese.
Warts and raised spots could be an indicator of an STI, while red or irritated skin could be indicative of irritation from feminine products, tight or synthetic clothing, laundry detergent and activities which are abrasive like certain exercises. Discharge or odor which is unusual may be a sign of bacterial, yeast, or a sexually transmitted infection.
Is a self-exam enough?
It could be helpful to document changes if you notice any anomalies, which you can then use to discuss with your Ob-Gyn. Remember that a self-vulva-examination is helpful – it is not diagnostic, since only a few vaginal diseases can be visually recognized.
A self-exam should not be considered a substitute for a pelvic exam, where pap smears and other tests take place - even doctors can draw few conclusions from a pelvic exam when used in isolation. Bacterial vaginosis and genital herpes may be the only exceptions – so do not skip your appointments!
Getting familiar with your own anatomy between doctor visits over time will help you notice anomalies immediately and based on your body will indicate when you may need to schedule that extra appointment.
Self-exam and Self-care
As you get familiar with your vulva, you will understand your anatomy better and the necessary steps you need to maintain your intimate health. For example, if you notice irritation examine the products that come into contact with your vulva.
Be mindful of the products you use on your intimate area: use only specifically formulated products which respect the vagina’s naturally occurring pH balance in accordance with gynecological recommendations, like Rejucream with carefully selected ingredients for their natural origins.