Think of your cervix as the gatekeeper to your uterus. Lots of things — like tampons, fingers, penises, sex toys, and other germ-carrying items — can get to your cervix, but they aren't getting past it. Your cervix, in its 24/7 role of keeping your uterus happy and healthy, won't let that happen,
Likewise, there are things—like mucous, menstrual blood, and the occasional baby—that need to get out of your uterus. Your cervix is the bouncer, deciding what and when things go in and come out of your most vital piece of your reproductive system. Yet, despite benefiting from its work, day in and day out, chances are you don't know much about it.
Like, do you even know what it looks like?
Probably not. Well, your cervix is the "neck" of your uterus, positioned at the top of your vaginal canal. Because of its location, seeing your cervix isn't as easy as squatting over a hand mirror, like you would if you were examining your other lady bits, but it is possible with the right tools.
All you need is a flashlight, a mirror, a retractable speculum, and a little courage. If you don't have a speculum just lying around your bathroom (and if you do, we want to hear that story!) you can buy a starter kit for $22.95 from the Beautiful Cervix Project. It even comes with a handy map to guide you through your own nethers. Once there you can admire the beauty of your own, unique cervix and even snap some cervix pictures if you're so inclined.
The Beautiful Cervix Project, a movement to better understand and appreciate the awesomeness of the underrated cervix. O’Nell Starkey started it as a project for midwifery school, with her husband taking snaps of her cervix throughout her cycle. She quickly discovered, as she's put it, “Cervices are amazing!” After sharing her images with the world, she found that other women also wanted to see their own cervices (that's plural for cervix!), leading her to start the Beautiful Cervix Project as well as live workshops dedicated to helping women learn about and appreciate their bodies.
"What I have learned by creating this website is that people from all over the world are curious about their bodies, cervices, and the menstrual cycle—everyone from newly menstruating teens, pregnant people, medical students, people with abnormal Paps, to people trying to conceive, artists, educators, and the list goes on," Starkey says. "Cervical self-exam is about educating and empowering people by contradicting some of the shame and under-education we have about our bodies and menstrual cycles. The Beautiful Cervix Project is dedicated to people working to reclaim their entire bodies as beautiful and lovable. The more we know about ourselves, the more we feel confident to advocate and care for ourselves."
While each cervix is slightly different (which is why we recommend checking out your own cervix!), they all go through similar changes during your monthly cycle, when you're pregnant, during labor and delivery, and after giving birth. Curious? Starkey was kind enough to share some cervix pictures to help you see what your cervix is up to... right now.
1. DURING THE FOLLICULAR PHASE
When your cervix is just hanging out, the visible part of the cervix protrudes into the vaginal canal and is covered by smooth, pink, squamous epithelium, says reproductive endocrinologist Kim Thornton. In this picture, the cervix is preparing for ovulation by preparing more fluid.
2. DURING OVULATION
The cervix looks a little bit like a donut. When it's closed, the hole looks like a dimple, but it opens during ovulation to let sperm in, explains gynaecologist Ronald D. Blatt.
3. DURING THE LUTEAL PHASE
After ovulation, the cervix prepares for menstruation. In this picture the cervix is just doing its thing, waiting for either a pregnancy or shark week to happen. The average cervix measures 3 to 5 cm in length and 2 to 3 cm in diameter, Thornton says.
4. DURING MENSTRUATION
When Aunt Flo comes to visit with her monthly gift of gore, you know the blood is coming from somewhere up in there, but this picture shows exactly how it comes out of your cervix. Again, the dimple in the centre — called the os — is in the open position to release menstrual fluids, Blatt says.
5. DURING SEX
This is a picture of the cervix just minutes after the woman had an orgasm during sex (you can even see the sperm pooled around the bottom). Depending on the size of you and your partner's anatomy, the penis can bump into the cervix during sex. Some women find the sensation enjoyable and may even orgasm from it, according to a study published in the journal Hormones and Behaviour. Others find repeated thrusting into the cervix to be incredibly painful and it can cause bruising or even tearing of your cervical tissue.
6. DURING PREGNANCY
Your sex life and monthly cycle may keep your cervix busy, but the real work happens during pregnancy and delivery. In this picture, the woman is about two months pregnant. The white goo, called leukorrhea, is very common type of vaginal discharge that can occur during pregnancy and is nothing to worry about, Starkey says.
7. DURING A PAP SMEAR
Getting swabbed for a pap smear and HPV test isn't anyone's idea of a good time but it's a necessary evil to catch cancer and other diseases before they can cause more harm. But you don't have to do them every year, says gynaecologist Richard K. Krauss. If their past pap smears have been normal, women in their 20s should have a pap smear every three years, and women in their 30s should have a pap smear every five years, he explains.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US