Test Overview

A vaginal self-examination is a way for a woman to look at her
vulva and
vagina. A vaginal self-examination may help you better
understand your body, the changes that take place during the
menstrual cycle, and any problems that may need
medical attention.

The best time to do a vaginal self-examination is between your
menstrual periods. A vaginal self-examination should not replace a regular
pelvic examination by your doctor.

Why It Is Done

A vaginal self-examination can be done to:

  • Help you learn more about your body and what is
    normal for you.
  • Help you check for vaginal sores, abnormal
    discharge, or other problems, such as
    genital warts.

How To Prepare

To do a vaginal self-examination, you will need:

  • A small flashlight or good lighting in the
    room.
  • A handheld mirror with a long handle.

Choose a time when you are not having a menstrual period. Do not
use vaginal creams or douches before doing the examination.

How It Is Done

Take off your clothes below the waist. Have the mirror and
flashlight where you can easily reach them. Wash your hands. Sit on the floor,
a bed, or a couch and support your back with pillows. Bend your knees, place
your feet near your bottom, lean slightly backward, and spread your knees apart
so your genital area can be seen.

Hold or prop the mirror in front of your genital area. Look at
the:

  • Outer and inner fleshy lips of the vulva
    (called the labia).
  • Bump of tissue covered by a hood of skin at the
    front of the labia (called the clitoris). The clitoris is the main area that is
    stimulated during sexual activity.
  • Opening of the
    urethra where urine drains from your
    body.
  • Opening of the vagina.
  • Opening of the
    anus.

Have the light reflect off the mirror so you can clearly see your
vaginal area. Then use your fingers to spread apart the vaginal lips. Adjust
the light and mirror until you can see into the vagina. You should be able to
see the reddish pink walls of the vagina, which have small folds or ridges
known as rugae.

Look at your vaginal discharge. A normal discharge usually is clear
to cloudy white, smells slightly acidic (like vinegar), may be thick or thin,
and changes a little throughout the menstrual cycle. To learn more, see
the topic
Fertility Awareness.

How It Feels

Relax your pelvic and belly muscles as much as you can during the
vaginal self-examination. You should have little or no discomfort from the
examination, unless you have a vaginal infection or an open sore.

Risks

Normally, there are no problems from doing a vaginal
self-examination.

Results

A vaginal self-examination is a way for a woman to look at her
vulva and
vagina. You should tell your doctor about any problems
you find.

Vaginal self-examination
Normal:

The vulva does not have sores or other growths, such as
genital warts.

The vaginal walls are reddish pink and have folds or
ridges. No sores or growths are present.

Normal discharge is clear and thin or white and creamy. The
discharge does not have a bad odor, is not bloody, and does not look like curds
(cottage cheese).

Abnormal:

Sores or rough, raised spots on the skin (such as genital
warts) may be present. Redness and itching of the labia may mean an irritation
(from feminine products or sexual activity) or infection (such as
genital herpes or another
sexually transmitted infection) is present.

Vaginal discharge that has a bad odor may mean an infection
such as
trichomoniasis is present. Discharge that looks like
curds may mean a
vaginal yeast infection is present.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to do a vaginal self-examination
include:

  • You are having a menstrual
    period.
  • You douched or used vaginal products before the
    self-examination.

What To Think About

  • A vaginal self-examination should not replace a
    regular pelvic examination and Pap test done by your doctor.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Krantz KE (2007). Anatomy of the female reproductive system. In AH DeCherney et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 5-55. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kevin C. Kiley, MD – Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofOctober 6, 2017