To many women, the cervix is a mysterious frontier, the secrets of which are known only to their gynecologist. Getting to know your own cervix and its amazing characteristics is not only empowering, but also serves as a practical tool throughout the childbearing years and beyond. It’s your body — why should your doctor know it better than you do?
Aside from being the person who knows your intimate parts best, there are many other reasons to learn to examine your own cervix. The most common use of a cervix self-exam is to track your cycle. This is especially important for women who, for either religious or other reasons, do not use artificial birth control. The cervix is the window to your fertility, offering valuable insight to ovulation. Cervix self-exams are an integral part of natural family planning.
Even if you use other means of family planning, knowing what your cervix is up (or down) to gives you useful information on what your body is doing at any given time in your cycle. Have a mysterious pain? If you’re ovulating, that will explain it. Pain or pressure during intercourse? You may be at a point in your cycle when the cervix is very low and interferes with penetration.
Moving along to the irregular cycles of peri-menopause and menopause, cervical examination tells you if and when you are ovulating and helps determine when you can actually expect to menstruate. Women in their childbearing years may also have irregular cycles due to hormonal imbalances or conditions such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), which makes the ability to examine the cervix useful to them as well.
Now that we know the why of examining your own cervix, let’s look at the how. The key to reaching the cervix is to position yourself so that it moves down as much as possible. This is best accomplished on the toilet or in a squatting position. Insert your middle finger, or first and middle fingers, as far into the vaginal canal as you can. Feel around to become familiar and comfortable with the interior of your vagina.
The cervix normally points slightly forward, behind the bladder. It will feel like a rubbery donut; if you’ve had a baby, the opening will be slit-shaped. If you haven’t given birth, the opening of the cervix will be round. Now it’s time to observe the texture and height of the cervix. During infertile times in your cycle, the cervix will be low, firm, and closed, with dry or sticky cervical mucous. If you’ve had a baby, you will likely have a slight opening even during the infertile period. As your body approaches ovulation, the cervix moves upward, making it harder to reach. The cervix will also become softer and begin to open a bit. The cervical fluid increases and becomes watery or slippery, like an eggwhite. In the days following ovulation the cervix gradually returns to its infertile state.
Chart your cervical position, mucous, and texture each day. This helps you get a clear indication of your cycle pattern. If you feel small, pimply bumps on your cervix, don’t be alarmed – these are called Nabothian cysts and are typically harmless. You can also check your cervix during pregnancy, which can be useful if you want to assess your progress without exposing your body to the germs at the doctor or midwife; just make sure to thoroughly wash your hands before doing so. Checking your own cervix takes practice, but is an effective, empowering way to become more familiar with your body.