Why You Should Stop What You're Doing & Look At Your Vulva

Photographed by Ruby Woodhouse.
Have you ever taken a look at your vulva? Like really looked at it? For many people with vulvas, the answer is a resounding no. "It's actually not uncommon for me to have a patient in their 60s come in to my office having never looked at their vulvas before," says Sheila Loanzon, DO, a board-certified Ob/Gyn and author of the book Yes, I Have Herpes. "They'll come in describing pain, and I'll ask if they've looked down there, and they'll give a look like it's gross."
Yes, it can be tricky for vulva-havers to actually get a good look, but there can also be shame and stigma attached to getting intimate with their own anatomy. "Are there any other body parts we haven't looked at? The answer to that question is typically no," says Kelley Johnson, PhD, a clinical sexologist based in North Carolina. "Looking at it and embracing it empowers us as sexual beings"
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If you're ready to take a look, start out slow and use your (clean) fingers to explore first, says Juliet Allen, a sexologist based in Australia. "It doesn’t have to be touch for pleasure," she says. "It can be touch just to get to know what it feels like down there." Then, grab a hand mirror, take a peek, and make sure to check back often, noting any changes in the skin or new bumps that may emerge. But, if you still need more convincing, here are three reasons why you might want to make an effort to look at your vulva.
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You could help your gyno catch any irregularities.

Think about it: If you're going in for regular checkups, your gynecologist will likely only see your vulva every one to three years. You, on the other hand, interact with it daily. And while your doctor will be able to catch any glaring issues, they're simply not seeing your vulva enough to notice slight irregularities that you could easily pick up on. "I encourage women to look at their vulva because they can see evidence of ingrown hairs that might need medical treatment or vaginal infections — like a yeast infection — that can cause the skin to change colors," Dr. Loanzon says. "Skin cancer can also present on the vulva or perineum, and the earlier that's caught, the better."

That's why it's important to be proactive. "If you ever take a look at your vulva and see something that has you questioning, always call your doctor – no matter how small you think the chance may be," Dr. Loanzon says. "There can be nuances that people shouldn't brush off."
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Your sex life could improve.

You know how people say that you can't expect a person to love you until you love yourself? That's not a bad way to think about your vulva. "In sex-negative cultures, the vulva can be seen as a dirty place, or something that's just out of sight, out of mind," Dr. Johnson says. "But if you’re uncomfortable with looking at it, how comfortable will you be with your partner looking at it?"

Once you're cozy and well-acquainted with your vulva, you might find that it's easier to communicate with your partner about what is pleasurable during sex. "If we don’t get to know [our vulva], how can we expect others to honor it?" Allen says. "Getting to know your anatomy and knowing where everything is — then you have a greater understanding of, 'Oh, being touched there feels good.'" Plus, by looking in a mirror, you're inadvertently seeing what your vulva looks like from your partner's point of view, which can empower you to direct them in ways that are pleasurable for both of you.
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You'll be taking control of your body image.

Looking at and feeling your vulva can help you embrace your sexuality — and help to dispel any self-imposed stigmas or hangups you might have about your anatomy. "It seems unfair that the comments that women get on their vagina tissue is based on [their] partner, and not [from] seeing it themselves," Dr. Loanzon says. Some women may have had a partner who made them feel self-conscious about the way they look down there, and that can have harmful effects on body image. "The partner is understanding the anatomy from porn or pictures, but all anatomy that women have down there is beautiful, and natural, and unique to them," she says. Grabbing a hand mirror and looking for yourself can help remove those negative feelings.
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