This kind of exploration, often called vaginal self-examination, has roots in 1970s radical feminist movements. During that time, many groups and individuals—from abortion rights activists learning about inducing abortions to sex workshop attendees who were trying to understand pleasure—found it helpful to grab a mirror and gaze at their vulvas. In fact, Megan Fleming, PhD, a resident sex therapist at Lovehoney, remembers attending a workshop very similar to the one portrayed in Fried Green Tomatoes. “Not only were you looking at your vulva, but everyone was looking at you looking at your vulva,” she says.
There’s a lot of utility in becoming intimately acquainted with your vulva, but you don’t have to get naked in front of a group of people (unless you want to). In fact, grabbing a mirror, slipping off your underwear, and getting a close-up look at your vulva might have some health-related benefits. Below, you’ll find seven compelling reasons to try it.
1. You can discover what's normal for you
Let’s be clear: No matter what porn has made you think, there is no universal definition of normal. “Labia come in all shapes, sizes, and colors,” Dr. Fleming says. If the only vulvas you’ve seen are from porn or classical art, you might get a slight shock when you look at your own. Still, it’s important to establish a baseline.
Get to know your anatomy. Lay back with your mirror, spread your labia, and find your clitoris, your urethra, and your vagina. Pay attention to what you look like—including any discharge, moles, or hair. Dr. Fleming suggests looking at your vulva at different points during your menstrual cycle, too, as there will be subtle changes depending on the time of the month.
2. You can check for ingrown hair
If you remove hair from your vulva, there’s a good chance you’ve had a few run-ins with ingrowns. (They pop up occasionally even if you don’t remove your hair.) Ingrown hair isn’t a major cause for concern. It happens when hair is trimmed and grows back into the skin—often causing inflammation, bumps, and pain in the process. As dermatologist Kenneth Howe, MD, told Well+Good previously, “your body perceives it as a foreign object, like a splinter.” And a splinter on your vulva? No good.
Sexologist Megan Stubbs, EdD, says vulvar self-checks allow you to keep an eye on ingrown hairs (they often go away on their own but can occasionally become infected). If anything feels tender down below, grabbing a vaginal mirror is an easy way to see what's going on. And once you know it’s an ingrown hair, you can use an exfoliator or a little tea tree oil to try to bring the follicle to the surface, Dr. Howe explained.
3. You can monitor vaginal discharge changes
Discharge is normal—it helps keep your vagina clean and lubricated. The frequency and texture of your discharge also varies throughout your cycle. But sometimes, changes are a sign of conditions like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Yes, this might sound confusing, but that’s why it’s helpful to know your baseline, Dr. Fleming says. What does your usual vaginal discharge look and smell like? Once you know that, you can tell when something is off. For instance, if your discharge is a little more yellow than usual or a little thicker and whiter. It could be a sign of infection or irritation.
Understanding changes in your vaginal mucus can also be helpful if you’re trying to get pregnant. “Cervical mucus really changes as you approach ovulation,” Dr. Fleming says. Being familiar with what your vulva looks like can help you know when you’re ovulating.
4. You can spot abnormal moles or warts
In general, vulvar self-checks are an excellent idea to look for anything out of the norm. According to the University of Michigan Health, suspicious moles, genital warts, vaginal tears (especially as you approach menopause), redness, and swelling are all things you’ll want to look out for when doing a self-exam. It’s also worth mentioning that, during a self-examination, you might notice changes in your vaginal smell, too.
5. You can groom yourself safely
If you shave, wax, or trim your pubic hair, you know it’s not always easy to see what you’re doing. Anyone who has ever nicked themself with a razor knows the struggle. That’s where a mirror that sits between your legs can come in handy. If you can see exactly what you’re doing, there’s less room for accidents. Looking for a good mirror? Nyssa’s VieVision Between The Legs Mirror has an LED light, which might be especially helpful.
6. You can watch yourself insert period products, dilators, or diaphragms
Menstruators might especially benefit from having a mirror when putting in their very first tampon or menstrual cup. As Dr. Fleming remembers, it’s not always easy to tell what you’re doing. “My daughter came out of the bathroom and said, ‘there’s no hole.’ And I told her, ‘no, I can assure you there is,” she says. A lot of people can relate. So if you have a new menstruator in your life, it might be a good idea to give them a mirror along with period products.
Mirrors can also be helpful for people who need to insert vaginal dilators (medical devices that people insert to relax and engage pelvic floor muscles gradually), like transgender women who’ve had gender-affirming bottom surgery, or someone who has vaginal pain stemming from a condition like vaginismus. Mirrors can also be useful if you use a diaphragm for birth control.
7. You can get more acquainted with what turns you on
For people interested in sex, Dr. Stubbs suggests using a mirror to watch yourself masturbate and orgasm. “It’s pretty cool if you haven’t seen it before,” she says. Why? Watching yourself can help you learn what exactly you like.
Again, it’s not always easy to tell what you’re doing. Are you using big circles or small circles? Are you putting a vibrator directly on your clitoris or keeping a little distance? If you watch and pay attention to how things feel, you’ll not only learn how to pleasure yourself, but you’ll learn how to direct a partner to the right kinds of touch as well.
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