The cervix is the gateway to a woman's reproductive organs―it's the entrance to the uterus (womb). Mucus within the cervix serves as an excellent protective barrier against bacteria/viruses that cause infections. But it's not 100 percent foolproof ― it needs maintenance checks and a little TLC along the way. So what can you do to ensure cervical health?
1. Get regular Pap smears/HPV testing at the recommended intervals. Even if not sexually active, women should see their gynecologist for a Pap test every three years while women aged 30-65 should continue this screening interval OR get a Pap test with HPV testing every five years. Cervical cancer is no laughing matter, and regular screening decreases the incidence of cervical cancer as well as the death rate from cervical cancer. In certain special high-risk scenarios, women might be advised by their doctor to get more frequent screening.
2. Women who are sexually active (regardless of sexual orientation), particularly women with multiple sexual partners, should get regular screening for sexually transmitted infections. Sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), as well as pelvic infections. Occasionally, these infections compromise a woman's future ability to get pregnant by causing scar tissue formation in the uterus and fallopian tubes even when the infection is mild.
Signs that suggest you should see a doctor for a check are a fishy odor (particularly after sex or during your period), mucus that's gray or green or yellow.
3. Cervical mucus can teach you a lot about your hormones/ your body. Many women find that the quality of their mucus changes throughout their menstrual cycle: In the days when women are their most fertile, the mucus from the cervix tends to be clear and stretchy (an effect stemming from the increasing estrogen levels that happen right before ovulation) and this is a good sign for women to have unprotected sex (if they're trying to conceive a baby) or not (if they're trying to avoid conception). After ovulation, the mucus becomes white and clumpy (progesterone effect)―by this time, it's too late to try and conceive. Remember, though, that these signs are just a guide and proper contraception use (condoms, etc) are the most effective way to avoid conception (if that's your goal).
4. Some women who are very comfortable with their bodies use self-cervical exams to help figure out when they're most fertile. As a woman nears ovulation, the cervix tends to soften up, and the opening feels more open. At other times of the month, the cervix is higher up in the vagina and the opening is more closed.
To minimize the risk of infection, always use clean fingers if you try to check your cervix/mucus.
5. Contrary to popular belief, douching is not necessary for health maintenance. It disrupts the balance of the pH and the healthy bacteria in the vagina/cervix.
6. Some women find that after pregnancy, or for genetic reasons, that their cervix hangs quite low (sometimes even past the opening of the vagina). This is called uterine prolapse. Aids like pessaries can assist, or if your doctor thinks necessary, surgery can help lift the uterus and cervix to a more normal position.