Your self-examination may reveal no signs or symptoms at all. However, if you discover anything suspicious, you should see a health care provider. Do not try to make a diagnosis on your own.
The appearance, shape, and size of genitals vary from person to person as much as the shape and size of other body parts. There is a wide range of what is considered normal. Observing your own body can help you to learn what is normal for you. Self-examinations help you identify any problems that may need medical attention. Self-examination is best done between your menstrual periods. Vaginal creams and douches should not be used within 24 hours before self-examination. A self-exam is best performed with a handheld mirror and small flashlight.
Wash your hands properly and remove clothing below your waist. 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. Start by examining the area that your pubic hair covers from the mons down to the area between your legs.
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. 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.
If the following are abnormal outcomes during self-examination and it is better the consult a doctor immediately:
- 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.
In order to maintain good reproductive and sexual health, females should visit a gynecologist- a doctor who specializes in females’ reproductive health- for an exam about once per year. Generally, females should begin seeing a gynecologist at the age of 21, but begin earlier if they become sexually active. After their first visit, females ages 21 to 29 should visit their gynecologist annually to get a Pap smear.