Unlike male anatomy, female anatomy is tucked away and so can be a bit of a mystery not just for other people, but even for each woman. It’s difficult to know about parts of your body that generally aren’t visible, but knowledge about your cervix can be vital to your health. Since January is Cervical Health Awareness month, we felt it was important to introduce you to parts of the female body that you might not otherwise learn much about. Here are some things that you may not know about this vital, usually hidden, part of the female reproductive system:
- Cervixes are different from one another. Just like male genitals, there is a basic shape – but each individuals cervix looks a bit different. Some are shorter, some are longer, some are large and some are small. Generally speaking, though, they are usually described as looking a bit like a fleshy doughnut or bagel at the back of the vagina. In the center is a dimple with a small hole in it. This hole is the passage through which menstrual blood, sperm and (after a lot of dilation) a baby can pass. This hole is called the “os”.
- Not only are they different from one another, they’re different from themselves at varying times. You see, the cervix changes regularly throughout the menstrual cycle and with age. It stretches, moves up or down, softens and hardens, etc.
- It’s not uncommon to be able to feel your cervix. For many women, they can feel the cervix if they insert a finger. It feels firm, smooth and usually moist. It’s not unusual, however, to not be able to feel it. Whether due to shorter arms or fingers, or because the vagina is more tilted, or even having a “retroverted cervix” (where it cervix leans back towards the spine instead of forwards ), some women just can’t feel it. Generally, this has no effect on a womans ability to care for her reproductive health. It may make some methods of birth control or menstrual maintenance – such as cervical caps or menstrual cups- difficult to use, but that’s about it.
- Cervical cancer is on the rise, but if caught early, it is very treatable. There are some risk factors that every woman should be aware of:
- HPV infection. HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that, in many cases, is completely benign, sometimes causing small warts or bumps that look like tiny pimples or may even be asymptomatic (meaning it shoes no symptoms). In fact, many people never even know they have contracted the virus unless regular screenings are done. Unfortunately, not all strains of HPV are benign. Some strains are high-risk and known to be more likely to cause cervical cancer later on.
- Smoking. Woman who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. It is thought that smoking lowers the bodies ability to fight off potentially cancer-causing cells.
- Sexual habits. A higher number of sexual partners has been shown to increase a womans risk of developing cervical cancer. Most scientists feel that this is connected to increased possibility of exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted infections.
- There is a vaccine against some higher risk types of HPV. The vaccine is recommended for girls aged 11-26, but can be given as young as 9. It is best given before any sexual activity has happened so as to be sure there hasn’t been any possible exposure to the HPV virus as of yet. It is possible for a woman to be a virgin and still have come in contact with the HPV virus.