True story: I am a cis-gendered woman who has never seen her own cervix. I’m betting that I’m not alone in this one. Besides the fact that cis-women’s (and trans-men who choose not to undergo hysterectomies’) genitalia is mostly internal, the standard procedures of medical practice in the West make intimate familiarity with one’s own sex organs difficult: in most gynecological practices, doctors do not have or use the technology–that’s available in many dentist’s offices, for Maude’s sake!–to allow their patients to see what they’re doing. And this, in combination with the fact that a typical gyno procedure involves the placement of a sheet between the patient and the doctor (which, by the way, serves only to obscure the patient’s view of what’s going on between their thighs), results in a vast and pervasive ignorance of most things cervix-related.
Enter: The Beautiful Cervix Project!* This incredible website not only contains an extensive gallery of photos of the changes that the cervix undergoes in different parts of the cycle and times of life (including, for example, during pregnancy of a young woman, just after intercourse with a male, and during IVF), it also includes this helpful video, detailing how to take your own cervix photo!
I’m a huge fan of this project, not only because it fosters an appreciation for the amazing stuff that the female body does, but also because it offers assistance to people wishing to regain control over the medicalization of their bodies. It wasn’t that long ago that women were arrested for teaching one another to insert speculums and use yogurt to cure yeast infections, and the low level of medical autonomy women have over our own reproductive systems is still incredible to me. With this in mind, my favorites from Beautiful Cervix are photos of cervical abnormalities, which are super service-y in terms of giving you a clear idea of what dangerous or pre-cancerous cells look like. Years ago, I was diagnosed with moderate displaysia and had to undergo a colposcopy and LEEP procedure, all of which were terrifying at the time because I had no idea what was going on, and a serious lack of knowledge about my own body–despite being a self-identified feminist.
Fortunately, the internet is now abuzz with resources to fix this problem, and not only on Beautiful Cervix. You can buy a self-exam kit here, and get instructions on how to perform your own self-exam here and here.
This is not to say that going to a traditional gyno is a bad thing, or even necessarily disempowering. But it seems worthwhile to make ourselves aware of other options, especially when so many of us still can’t get proper reproductive health care.
*Props to commenter Mackey at The Pursuit of Harpyness, who shared the link to this awesome site!