How to Perform a Vaginal Self-Exam

Benefits, Limitations, and Risks

While not recommended by medical professionals, some females examine their own vagina and vulva at home. A vaginal self-exam is never a substitute for a professional assessment, but there may be situations when you may need to look at your own vagina and vulva. However, any self-exam of these areas has to be done carefully to reduce the risk of infection or damage to the fragile tissue.

This article discusses the steps for performing a vaginal self-exam. It also covers the limitations and when to see a healthcare provider.

Disposable gynecological speculum
Alexthq / Getty Images

Vaginal vs. Vulvar Self-Exams

A vaginal self-examination is a way to look at your vulva and vagina to better understand your body and to spot problems that may need medical attention. It is not diagnostic since few vaginal diseases can be diagnosed visually.

A vaginal self-exam is not the same as a vulvar examination. When using the term vagina, many people think of the external genitals; however, examining the outside area is the vulva.

Vulvar exams are easier to perform and can detect physical abnormalities that could be caused by genital herpes or HPV. If you see something abnormal on or near your vulva or labia, you should follow up with your healthcare provider for appropriate testing.

A vaginal self-exam should never be considered a substitute for an annual pelvic exam, during which a Pap smear and other tests can detect abnormal changes in cervical and vaginal cells.

Performing a Vaginal Self-Exam

To perform a vaginal self-exam, you will need a strong light such as a flashlight, a mirror, disposable gloves, a vaginal lubricant, and antiseptic soap.

Here is how to do it:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and dry them.
  2. Place the gloves on your hands and a small amount of lubricant on the glove.
  3. Find a place to relax. This can be the floor or your couch, wherever you can feel comfortable.
  4. Lie back.
  5. Bend your knees, with your feet wide apart.
  6. Place the mirror at your feet so that you can see your vulva and vagina.
  7. With your gloved hand, open the lips of your vulva to see your vagina.
  8. Take note of the color and texture of your vulva and vagina, as well as any skin changes or secretions.

Some people find it easier to have a friend or partner hold the mirror during the exam. Generally speaking, you may want to avoid self-exams during your period as it may be harder to see changes or abnormalities.

Vaginal Changes

There may be many reasons why a person may choose to perform a vaginal self-exam. It may be to learn more about their own body or to detect changes indicative of an infection, ovulation, or pregnancy.

Some changes you might notice:

  • Vaginal secretion may thin during ovulation or thicken once fertilization and egg implantation has occurred.
  • Changes in color and texture can indicate an infection.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia may manifest with redness, itching, pain, and cervical swelling.
  • Yeast infections may have a cottage-cheese-like discharge and swelling of the labia.

See Your Healthcare Provider

If you find an abnormality, do not self-diagnose or treat yourself with over-the-counter or home remedies based on that conclusion. See a healthcare provider and go through appropriate diagnostic procedures.

On the other hand, if you don't find any abnormalities, this is not a reason to assume you are "all clear." You should still see your healthcare provider for regular screenings and check-ups.

Even healthcare providers can draw few conclusions from a pelvic exam when used in isolation. For example, bacterial vaginosis and genital herpes are detected around 39% and 48% of the time with a pelvic examination.

A vaginal self-exam is neither recommended nor effective in detecting cervical cancer or precancerous changes. These can only be detected through Pap screening and other direct diagnostic tests.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of lubricant is used on a speculum?

    Your healthcare provider may use a water-based lubricant to ease discomfort during a pelvic exam. These lubricants (like K-Y Jelly) reduce friction and are similar to the body’s own fluids. Your healthcare provider may not use any lubricant, though. 

  • What do I check for during a pelvic self exam?

    Look for signs of irritation or problems such as discoloration, sores, bumps, or painful areas around the outside of your vagina (the vulva) and on the inside walls of your vagina. If you see anything that seems unusual, see your healthcare provider for a full exam and pap smear.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nurainiwati SA, Ma'roef M, Pravitasari DN, Putra PYP. Effectivity and efficacy probiotics for Bacterial Vaginosis treatments: Meta-analysis. Infect Dis Model. 2022 Sep 28;7(4):597-604. doi:10.1016/j.idm.2022.09.001

  2. National Vulvodynia Association. National Vulvodynia Association. Vulvar Self-Examination.

  3. Murina F, Lubrano C, Cappelli E, Campo M, Taraborrelli S. The role of female intimate hygiene practices in the management of vulvovaginal candidiasis: A randomized, controlled open-label trial. Health Care Women Int. 2022 Jun 27:1-12. doi:10.1080/07399332.2022.2061972

  4. Workowski KA, Bolan GA. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. MMWR Recomm Rep.

  5. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Cervical cancer: Screening.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.