When should the exam be done?
The vaginal self examination should be done monthly, between menstrual cycles. If you are no longer having a period/ menstrual cycle, choose a day of the month (perhaps a birth date or a lucky number) that will be easy to remember and do the examination on that specific day. The examination should combine the vulvar and vaginal examinations together.
How long should the exam take?
The examination should typically take no longer than 10 minutes. It is important to find time, either in the beginning or end of the day, to do this exam when you will not be interrupted. Many women prefer to do this examination in the evenings before bedtime or right before their morning shower.
What supplies will I need?
Most women prefer to use their fingers and a hand held mirror with a flashlight to do the examination. Be sure to do the exam during private times, take the phone off the hook, put cellular phone on vibrate and consider locking the door to prevent unwanted interruptions.
Performing the Vaginal Self Examination
Find a safe, quiet and private place to easily undress and do the examination without interruption. Some women prefer the bathroom while others prefer their master bedroom. Make sure your hands are cleansed with mild soap and thoroughly rinsed with water to remove any soapy residue. Sit on the floor, bed or couch or squat or sit over the genitals so that the vulva becomes visible with the use of a hand held mirror. Some women prefer one leg elevated on the toilet seat. Find a comfortable place that is well lit. Hold the mirror in one hand while performing the examination with the other hand. Place the flash light so it can shine up the vagina to help you see inside.
You can always ask your significant other to help in the examination. Many women combine the vulvar examination with the vaginal examination by doing the vulvar examination first, then proceeding to the vaginal examination
Use your fingers to separate the vulvar lips so you can see the vaginal opening. Adjust the mirror and flashlight until you can see within the vaginal canal or tube. You should be able to see some of the vaginal ridges or folds called rugea.
Look at the vaginal discharge and note its color, smell and texture. Every woman’s discharge is unique but note any thick white discharge, with a fishy or bad smell. It may be thick or thin and may be different throughout the menstrual cycle. The vaginal walls are reddish pink in color and no sores or growths should be present. Notice the ridges, folds and elasticity of the vaginal lining or mucosa. Discharge should not smell. You should not feel any discomfort or pain during the vulvar or vaginal self examinations.
What should I be looking for?
If you find any new changes in the vaginal area, like new growths, bumps, or changes in color (pigmentation), it is important to get these areas further evaluated. Ulcers or sores should never be ignored and warrant further medical evaluation. It may be helpful to keep a vaginal diary to write down any changes. Areas that are tender to touch or have become painful and those areas which look irritated should also be evaluated.
It is also important to note that regular vaginal examinations should never take the place of a complete and comprehensive medical evaluation and assessment. Make sure you visit your health care professional or gynecologist for a general health maintenance examination including a detailed genitopelvic, vaginal and vulvar assessment.
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