January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. If you have a cervix, it’s important to stay on top of your cervical health. If you are 21 or older, or sexually active (no matter your age), you should get regular Pap smears. You can talk with your gynecologist to figure out how often you need to go. Typically, it’s every 1 to 3 years, depending on cervical and overall health.
We know we should be keeping up with our cervical health, but what even is the cervix? What does it do? Where exactly is it? What does it look like??
What is the cervix?
The cervix is essentially a tube or passage that connects your vagina to your uterus. The vagina is the internal canal, and your uterus is your womb, where a fetus would develop. The cervix is fairly small, about an inch to two inches, and it’s shaped a little bit like a donut. It’s like a smooth, fleshy donut with a small opening. Think of a small opening on either end that looks like pursed lips.
Although the cervix is fairly small, the actual structure is pretty complex. The low end of the cervix closest to the vaginal opening is called the ectocervix. The middle area that’s like a small tube is called the endocervix or endocervical canal. The opening of the cervix closest to the vagina is called the external Os, and the opening of the cervix closest to the uterus is called the internal Os. The area where the endocervix and ectocervix overlap is called the transformation zone. Sorry to sound so much like a science fiction movie, but those are the names. Who knew there could be so much terminology for such a small body part?
What does the cervix do?
The cervix has many functions, and its health is essential, which is why regular Pap smears are so important.
It helps facilitate pregnancy, clean your vagina, and grows a mucus plug when you’re pregnant. The mucus plug is at the opening closest to the vagina and keeps out bacteria and infection so the fetus is safe.
The opening of the cervix is very small and expands only slightly to let discharge, menstrual blood, or sperm pass through. Your cervix is the reason that a tampon or other object doesn’t get lost in your body. The cervical opening only expands to be really large during childbirth.
The cervix is also responsible for creating discharge to help clean your vagina. Discharge, a.k.a cervical mucus, changes throughout your menstrual cycle.
The cervix is smart enough to naturally change its positioning and consistency throughout your cycle. When you’re ovulating and your body releases an egg to be fertilized, your cervix is positioned high up in your body and is soft. Your cervical mucus will be thin and slippery, helping get sperm into your uterus. The softness of the cervix and high positioning near the uterus also helps lead the sperm to your eggs for fertilization. During other points in your cycle when you’re not ovulating, the cervix sits lower in your body and is a bit harder and feels more like the tip of your nose. You can actually feel your cervix if you slowly feel around past your vaginal canal.
The cervix during sex
Besides being essential to all of functions of reproductive health, the cervix can also serve as a source of pleasure during penetrative sex. Since the cervical opening is so small, it is impossible for it to be penetrated with a penis or sex toy, but it can provide a sense of pleasure if it’s bumped up against during penetrative sex. Because the cervix sits at the top of the vaginal canal, it is pretty far in your body and can only be reached during deep penetration.
For some people the cervix being stimulated during deep vaginal penetration feels awesome and pleasurable, but for some people it can be uncomfortable or even painful. If you ever experience cervical stimulation, pay attention to how it feels and communicate that with your partner so you don’t hurt yourself.
Take care of the small-but-mighty cervix
The cervix is an incredible part of the female anatomy. It keeps bacteria out of your uterus, produces discharge to clean your vagina, and changes its positioning to help facilitate or protect a pregnancy. Because your cervix is so essential to your reproductive and sexual health, make sure you get regular Pap smears. If you’re over 21 or sexually active, contact your gynecologist to figure out how often you should have yours.