The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus. It’s a small passageway connecting the vagina to the uterine cavity, about 1–1.5 inches or 2.5—3.8cm long (1). The Latin, cervix uteri translates to “the womb’s neck.” In the vagina, the cervix looks like a smooth fleshy O, about an inch or 2.5cm in diameter, with a hole in the middle — similar to puckered lips.
Your cervix does a lot for you: it keeps unwanted bacteria and viruses out of your uterus, it opens and closes to let sperm in and menstrual blood out, it produces its own lubrication and even grows its own plug if you become pregnant (called a mucus plug). Like the vagina and clitoris, the cervix also contains nerve pathways involved in the sexual response (6).
The way your cervix feels to the touch will change throughout your menstrual cycle. Its position in your abdomen may also change* (2–5). These changes happen in response to the hormonal fluctuations that facilitate the ovulatory process. Certain ligaments in the pelvis may become shorter around ovulation, for example, and the consistency of the cervical fluid changes (7, 8).
Around ovulation, the cervix is soft (like your ear lobe), slightly open and may be positioned high up in your abdomen. Other times it’s firmer (like the tip of your nose), tightly closed and may be positioned lower down in your abdomen (2–5). Changes in cervical height may influence how you experience certain sex positions or a pelvic exam, at different times of the cycle.
If you’ve never felt your own cervix, you might be curious to know where it is and how it feels at different points of the cycle.
Here’s a step-by-step feel-guide to finding your cervix:
- Start at a time when your cervix is likely to be low and more easily reached (before or after menstruation is great).
- Wash your hands very thoroughly, including underneath your fingernails.
- Squat on the ground, or lift one leg up onto the toilet seat or side of the tub.
- With your palm facing up, guide your longest finger carefully into your vagina (lube can come in handy here).
- Feel for a round, raised circle with a dimple in the middle — it’s most likely to be at the top of the front vaginal wall (closer to your belly button than to your back) (1, 5).
Feeling your cervix at different intervals throughout a cycle or two will give you an idea of how it changes for you. Most people don’t learn this until they are trying to become pregnant, and are using cervical position as a sign of approaching ovulation/fertility (cervical position is sometimes used along with other measures like basal body temperature in fertility awareness). But knowing how your cervix changes will give you a new awareness of your body, which is helpful for more than just pregnancy.
Once you and your cervix are cozy acquaintances, the idea of keeping your cervix healthy may be less abstract. You can keep your cervix healthy by 1) getting an HPV vaccine if you’re eligible 2) having regular pap smears and 3) using barrier protection during sex (condoms, dental dams). Cervical cancer was once a leading cause of death amongst people of reproductive age in the United States. Rates have dropped dramatically in recent decades, largely due to the evolution of cervical screening and preventative procedures (9). It’s up to you to get screened. Most cases of cervical infection and cancer are caused by unmanaged infections of two strains of Human Papillomavirus (HPV types 16 and 18). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (10).
Have you gotten up close and personal with your cervix? Let us know your experience or if you have any questions. If you want to take your cervical exploration a step further, you might try asking your doctor to show you your cervix in a mirror next time you have a pelvic exam. You could also host a throw-back to the self-exploration parties of the 70s, and buy your own speculums for at-home use.
*There is little scientific research on the heightening and lowering of the cervix in the abdomen across the menstrual cycle. The phenomenon of cervical height change is most discussed in literature on fertility awareness (5). This material is consistent in its observations, but mostly anecdotal.