I'm pretty sure you're well aware of the fact that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month definitely reminds us all about how necessary it is to perform breast self-exams. Also, if you're 45 or over, hopefully you've scheduled a mammogram (if you haven't had one already this year). Remember, although we are diagnosed with this particular form of cancer at a slightly lower rate than white women, the reality is our mortality is noticeably higher.
As I was reflecting on the fact that I am now in the age bracket where annual mammograms are important (gee, where does the time go?), it got me to thinking about something else that is important for all of us to do. Something that doesn't seem to come up nearly as often, but can be just as life-saving—vaginal self-exams. I try to give myself one about every 3-4 weeks or so. When's the last time you did it?
If the answer is "never", here are the reasons why you should, along with how to go about making it a routine part of your proactive self-care routine.
Why You Should Be Looking Down There More Than You (Already) Do
I'm not sure if it's a generational thing or what, but I find it to be interesting that whenever I ask the women in my life who are over 50 if they look at their vagina, they act like I'm speaking German; meanwhile, if I ask a woman in her 20s if she does, I darn near have to keep her from spreadin' it wide right in front of me. I have pried a little when it comes to a few older women by asking them what the big deal is with looking at their va-jay-jay. Usually they say something along the lines of, "I barely wanted to see my own baby being born" or (if they are down with receiving oral sex; some aren't), "I'll just let my man tell me if something is up. He's there more than I am anyway."
Me? I'm kind of a natural picker. I had to train myself to leave pimples alone. Every time a new age freckle pops up (a "gift" from my maternal grandfather), I almost immediately notice. And yes, I am neither hesitant nor ashamed to say that whenever I am doing my own up-close-and-very personal lady-scaping, I usually get a mirror to check out what's going on down below. It's not so much that I'm worried that something is wrong; it's just that I find my vagina to be really fascinating. Dope, even.
Now if you're someone who is like, "I may not be in my 50s but I don't have a desire to look at my hoo-haw either" and your main rationale is because "that's what pap smears are for", here's something to think about. Although there used to be a time when pap and pelvic exams (mostly to check for cervical cancer cells) were recommended on an annual basis, most health professionals now agree that if you are between the ages of 21-65, every three years is fine. For those of us who kinda sorta hate pap smears, that's good news. But OK, what about all of those months in between your visits to the doctor; especially if you are sexually active?
This is where a vaginal self-exam comes into play.
While there is nothing quite like the technology of medical equipment and the knowledge of a medical professional, performing a vaginal self-exam can help you to see if there is a noticeable change in your discharge, if there are growths (including bumps, sores or "weird-looking spots") or drastic changes in color when it comes to your clitoris or your labia majora (inner lips) or labia minora (outer lips).
If there's a part of you that is still giving push back by saying, "OK, but if there were issues like that, wouldn't I feel it?" Eh, maybe. Maybe not. But since some STDs including chlamydia and HPV are typically asymptomatic, and even bacterial vaginosis is asymptomatic in nearly half of all women, it can never hurt to 1) get used to what your vagina—well, technically your vulva; your vagina is the inside part while your vulva is the outside part—looks like when it's healthy so that 2) you are able to detect fairly early on if something appears abnormal in anyway. After all, when it comes to your overall health and well-being, early detection of anything always works in your favor.
How Do You Perform a Vaginal Self-Exam?
I really am hoping that I've compelled you to at least consider giving yourself a vaginal self-exam. Trust me, it's not that hard to do.
What you'll need is a:
- Handheld mirror
- Small flashlight
- Gloves for your hands (like the ones you would use to perm your hair with)
- Diagram of the vulva (you can look one up online or download this one here)
- Journal or smartphone
- Wash your hands thoroughly and/or apply a pair of sterile gloves.
- Remove all of your clothing from the waist down (some people like to do this after the shower, but you can't always detect your discharge that way; right when you wake up is probably your best bet).
- Whether it's on your bed or the floor, put a towel underneath you and then prop your butt up with a pillow.
- Pull your feet back towards your butt as far as they will comfortably go and spread your legs wide.
- Relax your pelvic muscle. Then, with your mirror, start inspecting, beginning with your mons pubis (the top of your vulva where most of your pubic hair is), then your clitoris, then your lips (outside and inside) and then the opening of your vagina and anus. Look to see if there are any noticeable changes that you haven't seen before (or if it's your first time, take note if anything alarms you). If there is, jot it down in your journal or smartphone (by the way, smartphones are pretty gross, germ-wise. You might want to clean it before conducting your self-exam; just to be on the safe side). Don't be afraid to gently pull back the folds of your vulva, to peek into your clitoris' hood or to even stick a finger into your vagina to make sure that your walls are a pinkish color and the texture is smooth.
- Once you are done, if something seems different to the point of slightly alarming, write it down and make an appointment to see your doctor. Again, the sooner you notice something "strange" and your physician is made aware, the sooner your vulva and vagina can get to feeling like their normal self (plus, it can prevent you from infecting someone else, even if you've got something as simple as a yeast infection). After getting the hang of this, it should take no more than 15 minutes tops.
After you've completed your vaginal self-exam, treat you and your vagina to a homemade strawberry and avocado smoothie (it'll help to keep your vagina's pH in check) or a nice pair of organic cotton undies (since you need to swap those out every six months anyway). You've taken super responsible measures to keep "her" happy. You've certainly earned it!
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
15 Things I Bet You Didn't Know About Your Own Vagina
10 Things Your Vagina Wishes You Would Do More Often
These Common Habits Are Actually BAD For Your Vagina
Keep Your Vagina Like A (Literal) Fountain Of Youth
Feature image by Shutterstock
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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From Monogamy To Polyamory: 'I'm In An Asexual Poly Marriage With My Husband Of 7 Years'
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be asexual and in an open marriage? Relationship Coach Mikki Bey shared her first-hand experience with us as well as answered some of our burning questions.
Like a lot of people, Mikki met her now husband, Raheem Ali, online. As soon as they met, they instantly fell in love and got engaged on their first date. Just 90 days after they met, the couple tied the knot and have now been married for seven years. Raheem and Mikki aren’t your typical married couple, and despite being married for almost a decade, their marriage is anything but traditional. Mikki and Raheem have what she calls an "asexual polyamorous marriage."
Defining Her Sexuality
It wasn't until last summer that Mikki found the language to define her sexuality. "I didn't have the language for it until last summer," she explained to xoNecole. "Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing.”
Mikki always thought she was broken because she had no interest in sex. Mikki noticed after her friends came to visit and started discussing their sexual fantasies that she realized something was different about her. “At that point, I knew something was definitely different about me since I do not have sexual fantasies at all. It was truly news to me that people are at work thinking about sex! That was not my experience.” This led to Mikki researching asexuality, which she soon realized fit her to a T. “It felt like breathing new air when I was able to call it by name," said Mikki.
"Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing it."
Asexuality refers to people who experience little or no sexual attraction, experience attraction without acting on it sexually, or experience sexual attraction differently based on other factors. Like most things, asexuality falls on a spectrum and encompasses many other identities. It's important to remember, however, that attraction and action are not always synonymous: some asexuals may reject the idea of sexual contact, but others may be sex-neutral and engage in sexual activity.
It's possible that some asexuals will have sex with someone else despite not having a libido or masturbating, but others will have sex with a partner because it brings a sense of connection.
From a Traditional Marriage to Kitchen Table Polyamory
Although Mikki never really had a high sex drive, it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, that she noticed her sex drive took a real nosedive. “I never had a high sex drive, but about a year after my son was born, I realized I had zero desire. My husband has a high sex drive, and I knew that it would not be sustainable to not have sex in our marriage at that time.”
She was determined to find an alternative to divorce and stumbled upon a polyamory conversation on Clubhouse. Upon doing her own research, she brought up the idea to their husband, who was receptive. “It’s so interesting to me that people weigh sex so heavily in relationships when even if you are having a ton of sex, it’s still a very small percentage of the relationship activity," Mikki shared.
They chose polyamory because Mikki still wanted to be married, but she also wanted to make sure that Raheem was getting his individual needs and desires met, even if that meant meeting them with someone else. “I think that we have been programmed to think that our spouses need to be our 'everything.' We do not operate like that. There is no one way that fits all when it comes to relationships, despite what society may try to tell you. Their path to doing this thing called life together may be different from yours, but they found what works for them. We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us,” Mikki explained.
"We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us. We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sex partners to lifetime partners if it should go there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it."
She continued, “We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sexual partners to lifetime partners if it should get there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it. Our dynamic is parallel with kitchen table poly aspirations.”
Kitchen table polyamory (KTP) is a polyamorous relationship in which all participants are on friendly terms enough to share a meal at the kitchen table. Basically, it means you have some form of relationship with your partner’s other partner, whether as a group or individually. A lot of times, KTP relationships are highly personal and rooted in mutual respect, communication, and friendship.
Intimacy in an Asexual Polyamorous Marriage
Mikki says she and her husband, Raheem, still share intimate moments despite being in a polyamorous marriage. “Our intimacy is emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical, although non-sexual. We are intentional about date nights weekly, surprising and delighting each other daily, and most of all, we communicate our needs regularly. In my opinion, our intimacy is top-tier! I give my husband full-body massages, mani-pedis and make sure I am giving him small physical touches/kisses throughout the day. He is also very intentional about showing me his love and affection.”
Raheem and Mikki now use their lives as examples for others. On their website, thepolycouplenextdoor.com, they coach people interested in learning how to be consensually non-monogamous. “We are both relationship coaches. I specialized in emotional regulation, and Raheem specializes in communication and conflict resolution. The same tools we use in our marriage help our clients succeed in polyamory."
Mikki advises people who may be asexual or seeking non-monogamy to communicate their needs openly and to consider seeking sex therapy or intimacy coaching. Building a strong relationship with a non-sexual partner requires both empathy and compassion.
For more of Mikki, follow her on Instagram @getmikkibey. Follow the couple's platform on Instagram @thepolycouplenextdoor.
Featured image by skynesher/Getty Images