We spent a lot of time talking about vaginas this year—but you should be doing more than just talking about your nether-region. It’s also smart to take a good look at what you’re working with down there on a regular basis. “It’s empowering to educate yourself about your body and note any concerns,” says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D., co-author of V is for Vagina. “And you may just prevent a bigger health problem in the future.”
Studying your lady-parts in a mirror can help you spot new moles, painful or bloody lesions, blisters or fissures, or thick discharge—all of which are reasons to book an appointment with your ob-gyn, stat. “In general, if something shows up that is not normal for you, always check in with your gynecologist,” says Dweck.
Granted, knowing what’s normal for you takes a little time. “While there are average lengths, shapes, hues, and variations in symmetry when it comes to the vulva, the truth is there really is no ‘normal,'” says Dweck. “The issue is what’s normal for you and whether one is having symptoms of distress regarding such.”
So grab a mirror and stand in your bathroom with one foot on the floor and the other propped up on the edge of your toilet seat or lip of your bathtub. From this angle, Dweck says you should be able to spot the labia majora (the outer plumper lips of vulva); the labia minora (the inner, thinner lips); the clitoris (or rather, the clitoral hood or covering); the perineum (the area between the rectum and vagina); the urethra (where you pee); the vaginal opening; and the the anus. Here’s an oh-so-helpful diagram of female genitals, courtesy of the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Once you see what looks “normal” for you, you’ll be prepared to spot problems the next time around. You can check how things are going down there once every few weeks—although we won’t tell if you want to give your lady-parts a look more often than that.