Knowing your own body is one of the most important things you can do for wellness – after all, how will you know when something is wrong if you don’t know what it’s like when all is right? Learning about your body through touch and sight, and talking about body parts naturally – whether they’re your heart and lungs or your vagina and uterus – will help your body brain connection.
While children naturally explore their bodies, including their genitals, cultural taboos may keep us from doing so as adults. For women, it’s harder to explore our genital region – they’re not as prominent as for men. As we stop exploring our bodies, we lost the awareness of sensations. And this loss can keep us from knowing more about how our bodies function, and how to heal them when something goes wrong.
So, let’s start you on an exploration of your genitals from the outside in:
- Your pelvis is the bony structure supporting your body. It holds your bladder, uterus and rectum, and attaches to major muscles and joints of movement.
- Place one hand on your pubic bone (symphysis pubis) – the flat part at the front of your pelvis – and the other hand on your tailbone (coccyx). Now place one hand on each of the bony prominences in your buttocks, your “sit bones” (ischial tuberosities). These are the outer limits of your genital region.
- Also in the region you have marked with your hands are the pelvic floor muscles. These are layers of crisscrossed muscles that support all of the pelvic organs. They also have several openings through which the urethra, rectum and vagina pass. If you insert a finger in your vagina and contract the muscles, your finger should feel squeezed and lifted.
- Looking in a mirror, take note of your frontside and backside. Know that everyone looks different. There’s not one right or wrong way to be built! You may have pubic hair, stretch marks, fat deposits, and more – be kind to yourself, but get to know how you normally look.
Now is the opportunity to do some further exploration. If you have not touched your genitals before, this may be uncomfortable for you Go slowly and start by looking, then touching. Using a handheld mirror will help you to see the landmarks we’re discussing. Using a lubricating oil might increase your comfort as you explore your body.
- Recline on a bed with your back well supported and open your legs.
- Note the body parts discussed above.
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles – or cough or laugh - and note how they move.
- Gently touch your vulva – the outer part of your pubic region. Note the changing sensations as you move your hand around.
- With your hand, gently open your outer lips (labia majora). Keep in mind this body part may be longer, shorter, have one side different than the other, etc. No two women are alike.
- Gently open the inner lips (labia minora) – can you see the vaginal and urethral openings? Can you locate the clitoris? The hood or glans of the clitoris is the visible part, but the organ actually extends inside.
- Gently touch the vaginal opening, moving your fingers around the circle.
- Insert your finger into your vagina (just to your fingernail) – move your finger around as if drawing a circle, or as if going around a clock face and stopping briefly at each number.
- Contract and release your pelvic floor muscles.
- As you get more comfortable with this, you can insert your finger deeper (to the first or second knuckle), continuing the circular motion or bending your finger to feel different tissues.
As you explore, note your feelings – physical and emotional. This touching shouldn’t be painful, but may be uncomfortable (maybe a 3 or 4 out of 10 on the pain scale). If you feel uncomfortable with looking or touching, this is normal. Go slowly. Sometimes a warm bath, dim lighting or meditation help relax you so that you’re not as inhibited as you explore your own body.
This routine will help you to know what’s normal for your body. Try to find time every month to check your pubic region and genitals. This is the best way to note any changes early so you can be checked by a healthcare provider.
A note about lubrication:
Using a good lubricant can make the touching process easier and more comfortable. Be generous with it to avoid friction (placing a towel underneath your bottom, if needed). There are different types of lubricants– each with advantages and disadvantages. Avoid any lubricants with perfumes or preservatives, and opt for ones that are not petroleum-based.
- Water based: generally safe to use on devices, easy to clean
- Oil based: these last longer, but can be harder to clean; can also cause condoms to break down
- Silicone based: easy to clean, long-lasting, safe with condoms
Try Velvet Rose Lubricant for a clean and easy to use experience available at:
Resource: Exploring Your Genitals by Lori Forner, Women’s Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, 2015.