Vaginal Self-Examination (VSE)

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. See a picture of the vulva.

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. For more information, 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. For more information, see the topics Pelvic Examination and Pap Test.

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

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised January 28, 2012

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