The Importance of being Familiar with your Vulva

Guest post by Beth Safarian, PT

Most of us look at our faces in the mirror every single day. We are familiar with every scar, mole and freckle. We know that one eyebrow is slightly shorter than the other, and that our smile is a little crooked. We can look at our colouring to tell us if we have a sunburn or a rash. We can use touch to check for a fever and feel for swollen glands. Having access to this information allows us to better understand when something changes and may require medical care. Being familiar with how our faces look also allows us to feel comfortable and confident in our own skin.

So why aren’t we just as (if not more) familiar with our vulvas???

First and foremost, it is so important to know what ‘your normal’ is so you are able to take care of your vulvovaginal health. Sexually transmitted infections and vaginal infections can present with changes in discharge, odour, sores and blisters. It is much easier to monitor for these changes when you are confident with what your baseline is.

Secondly, ‘the unknown’ is a scary concept in many aspects of life, including the genitals. When someone has no idea what their vulva looks like, there is often a lack of comfort. This lack of comfort can result in anxiety and muscle tension, which can cause pain with sex, decreased arousal and difficulty with orgasm. That is why self exploration can be an important step in the treatment of pelvic health conditions like vaginismus and dyspareunia.

How do I start self-exploring?

I recommend setting yourself up in a relaxing environment (eg. music, candles). Try to choose a time of day when no one is in your home so it’s just you and your vulva. Give yourself lots of time so you are not stressed or rushing. A comfortable position would be to prop yourself up in bed with lots of pillows behind your back and supporting your knees. You can either hold a mirror or place one in between your legs. Just start by observing; what do you notice? Any freckles? Is one labia larger than the other? Then you can progress to gentle touch. What does your skin feel like? Is there moisture or pubic hair? You can then try splaying open the labia to look at the opening of your vagina. What do you see? Is there discharge present? What is the colouring of your vaginal tissue? You can also progress to inserting your finger into the vagina to feel your tissues. How do your tissues feel? Warm? Soft?

Everyone moves at a different pace with their self exploration. Some people may want to observe a few times before progressing to touch. Some people may go through all the steps the very first time. But it is important to take your time and be kind to yourself. As a pelvic physiotherapist, I will often help guide my patients through their anatomy which is a great option for those who need a bit more support.

Artwork by @robbiekaye

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