Self-Exam: The Cervix Close-Up
Vaginal Corona (Hymen)
Edited by Bianca Palmisano, July 2022
This content is adapted from an earlier article by Our Bodies Ourselves Anatomy & Menstruation Contributors.
Want to view your cervix? Here’s what you’ll need: flashlight; speculum (a metal or plastic tool used to hold apart the walls of the vagina); hand mirror. Feminist Women’s Health Center sells a self-exam kit ($25) that includes these items, along with a “Get the Inside Information” brochure.
Observing the color, size, and shape of your cervix and the changes in your vaginal discharge and cervical fluid during the different stages of your menstrual cycles allows you to learn what is normal for you and can help you recognize when something is wrong. You can do a cervical self-exam just once to check things out, or repeat it regularly or during certain phases of your menstrual cycle.
Getting to Know the Speculum
Before you start, wash your hands, then sit back on a couch or a comfortable chair, or on the floor, with pillows behind your back for support. Bend your knees and place your feet wide apart.
Different styles of speculums work slightly differently, but all have two bills and a handle. Take a little time to get comfortable holding and moving the speculum around. Use the lever to open the bills slowly. You can hold the lever with your thumb or lock it in place on some models. Others will automatically lock in the open position. Be sure to figure out how to release the lock before you insert your speculum.
You will be able to insert the speculum and find your cervix most easily if your hips are tucked forward toward your belly button. There are a few ways to position your body so that this is easier:
- With your back supported by pillows, you can lie at a 45-degree angle on the floor or bed. Your knees can be bent with feet flat and legs wide apart.
- The same back position, but with your feet in “frog-leg” position (feet touching each other and knees falling to the side)
- Lying flat on the floor, knees bent to about 90 degrees, resting your calves on a couch or a low chair to get a comfortable angle
You can adjust the angle of your back however you need to be able to reach your hand between your thighs
Once you’ve found a comfortable position, hold the mirror in one hand and look at your genitals. It may be easiest to rest the mirror against your knee. You should be able to use your other hand to separate the labia or “lips” of your vulva and find the opening to your vagina. This is where you will insert the speculum.
You may need both hands for the next step, so set the mirror to your side. Put some lubricant on the speculum and/or your vulva. Hold the speculum in a closed position (the bills are together) with the handle pointing upward. Use your other hand to separate your labia again. Now, slide the speculum in gently as far as it will comfortably go. If it hurts, stop; pull it out and try inserting it into the vagina sideways, then turn it. Experiment to find what feels most comfortable for you.
Keep in mind that your vagina is angled toward your back, not up toward your head. You can put your finger in your vagina to feel where your cervix is and how to direct the speculum.
Once the speculum is inserted, grasp the handle and squeeze the lever toward the handle to open the bills. Placing the speculum and finding the cervix may take some effort; that’s OK.
Breathe deeply and manipulate the speculum gently while looking at the mirror. You’ll be able to see the folds in the vaginal wall, which may look pink, ridged, and wet. The cervix looks like a rounded or flattened knob about the size of a quarter with a dark spot in the middle (the os, or opening, to the uterus). The cervix is usually a smoother texture than the vaginal walls. When you find your cervix, lock open the bills of the speculum. If you don’t see it, allow the speculum to gently close and shift the angle of insertion before reopening it, or remove the speculum and reinsert it. You can also wiggle your body, cough, or laugh. Sometimes these movements will bring the cervix into view.
Focus the light source on the mirror to help you see better. If you want, a friend or partner can help by holding the flashlight and/or the mirror. If you still can’t see your cervix, wait a few days and then try again. The position of the cervix shifts during the menstrual cycle, so viewing may be easier at another time.
Variations in Cervical and Vaginal Discharge
It’s very normal to see some discharge or blood coming from the os (the slit or opening in the center of your cervix, which is the opening to your uterus). Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, your cervical fluid may range from pasty-white to a clear and stretchy egg-white texture to red menstrual blood. The cervix itself may be pink and smooth, or it might be uneven, rough or splotchy. All of these are normal.
If you are pregnant, your cervix might have a bluish tint; if you have reached menopause or are breastfeeding, it may be pale. If you are ovulating, the cervix will appear open with clear stretchy mucus sitting in it.
You may see small, yellow/white fluid-filled sacs on the cervix that look like little blisters. These are called Nabothian cysts; they are quite common and do not need any treatment. They are caused by a blockage in the fluid-producing glands of the cervix and can last for years or come and go.
You may also see polyps, pink outgrowths of cervical tissue that dangle on a stalk, looking like a little tongue sticking through the os. A very red cervix, or green-to-yellow discharge may be signs of an infection.
When you are done exploring, unlock the bills or release the lever to close the bills of the speculum and remove it. Clean it with soap and water or rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) before storing for later use.
Congratulations–you’ve explored your own cervix!
To learn more about your sexual and reproductive organs, see Self-Exam of Female Genitals: Vulva and Vagina.
Check out: Beautiful Cervix Project. Women submitted photos of their cervix during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, after an abortion, and after orgasm. You can also view photos of a Pap test in progress.