The Cervix Close-Up

By OBOS Anatomy & Menstruation Contributors | March 31, 2014

If you want to see your cervix, find a comfortable place with good lighting and gather these supplies: flashlight; speculum (a metal or plastic tool used to hold apart the walls of the vagina); lubricant such as such as olive or almond oil; hand mirror.

Wash your hands, then sit back on a couch, a comfortable chair, or the floor, with pillows behind your back for support. Bend your knees and place your feet wide apart.

Familiarize yourself with the speculum. Different styles work slightly differently, but all have two bills and a handle. Use the lever to open the bills until the lock clicks. Be sure to figure out how to release the lock before you insert it.

Put some lubricant on the speculum or your vulva. Hold the speculum in a closed position (the bills are together) with the handle pointing upward. Slide it in gently as far as it will comfortably go. If it hurts, stop; pull it out and try inserting it into the vagina sideways, then turn it. Experiment to find what feels most comfortable for you.

Keep in mind that your vagina is angled toward your back, not up toward your head. You can put your finger in your vagina to feel where your cervix is and how to direct the speculum.

Once the speculum is inserted, grasp the handle and squeeze the lever toward the handle to open the bills. Placing the speculum and finding the cervix may take some effort; that’s OK.

Breathe deeply and manipulate the speculum gently while looking at the mirror. You’ll be able to see the folds in the vaginal wall, which may look pink, bulbous and wet. The cervix looks like a rounded or flattened knob about the size of a quarter. If you don’t see it, allow the speculum to gently close and shift the angle of insertion before reopening it, or remove the speculum and reinsert it.

Focus the light source on the mirror to help you see better. If you want, a friend or partner can help by holding the flashlight and/or the mirror. If you still can’t see your cervix, wait a few days and then try again. The position of the cervix shifts during the menstrual cycle, so viewing may be easier at another time.

When you find your cervix, lock open the bills of the speculum. You will see some cervical and vaginal discharges. Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, your cervical fluid may range from pasty-white to a clear and stretchy egg-white texture. (Learn more about cervical fluid in the section on menstruation and reproduction.) The cervix itself may be pink and smooth, or it might be uneven, rough or splotchy. All of these are normal.

If you are pregnant, your cervix might have a bluish tint; if you have reached menopause or are breastfeeding, it may be pale. If you are ovulating, the cervix will appear open with clear stretchy mucus sitting in it. The slit or opening in the center is the os, the opening to your uterus.

You may see small, yellow/white fluid-filled sacs on the cervix that look like little blisters. These are called Nabothian cysts; they are quite common and do not need any treatment. They are caused by a blockage in the fluid-producing glands of the cervix, and can last for years or come and go.

You may also see polyps, pink outgrowths of cervical tissue that dangle on a stalk, looking like a little tongue sticking through the os.

When you are done exploring, unlock and remove the speculum. You can remove it after the lock is released but while it’s still open, or close the bills first. Clean it with soap and water or rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) before storing for later use.

Observing the color, size and shape of your cervix and the changes in your vaginal discharge and cervical fluid during the different stages of your menstrual cycles allows you to learn what is normal for you and can help you recognize when something is wrong. You can do a cervical self-exam just once to check things out, or repeat it regularly or during certain phases of your fertility cycle.

Want to learn more about your sexual and reproductive organs? Read Self-Exam: Learning Your Way Around.