What Our Biology Books Left Out: The Story of the Cervix

Chennai. September 2012. Class 9.

A trainee Biology teacher walked inside the dingy classroom, expecting a raucous group of young boys and girls. She stalled around for a while, as she wondered how the brats who otherwise brought the roof down with their incessant chatter sat glued to their chairs like god’s angels. Apart from a few sniggers and giggles, the children were demure, as if they had just been washed over by a wave of good manners.

We had spent the last few weeks of the class discussing all the different systems in the human body that enabled us to live as fully functional human beings. Circulatory system – check. Digestive system – check. Respiratory system – check. Even the ‘embarrassing’ excretory system had been dealt with, and the buck had now stopped at the I-Don’t-Know-How-To-Teach-This system, whose name started with R. You guessed it right – it was the dreaded Reproductive system. Five minutes into class, the trainee teacher realized the reason behind the sudden apocalyptic silence. And how did she deal with it? She took a deep breath, postured herself in a position of power, and instructed us to “please go through the chapter on our own” and save our doubts for the next class. Which never came. I went back home and ogled at the female reproductive system for a while with my bubble being burst, and moved on to the other chapters.

It is no wonder that the word ‘cervix’ sounded strange to my ears at 25 and this little, elusive organ was far beyond the ambit of my class 9 biology textbooks. The ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus were mentioned, but never the cervix or the vagina. Given this lackadaisical introduction I had to female reproductive anatomy, it’s a surprise I know this much about it now. And how did that happen? As my luck would have had it, I switched from disposable sanitary products to re-usable products; to be precise, I started using a menstrual cup.

Q. What is the Cervix?

Women who swear by menstrual cups have heard this word being perpetually thrown around. The cervix is a slippery little blob of tissue that connects the uterus to the vagina. Most women opine that the cervix feels like a donut, or like the tip of your nose. See the colorful reproductive system diagram, if you want a quick recap of its position. Cervix also produces white discharge (which is normal, unless it has a smell, has a different color, or is in excess) and it has two functions:

  • Firstly, to keep the vagina clean.
  • Secondly, it acts as a lubricant during sexual intercourse.

Q. Why is it important to know about the cervix?

The cervix is a mysterious little organ tucked inside the human female reproductive anatomy. While I was introduced to the cervix because of the menstrual cup, the cervix gives a lot of information about your menstrual cycle! Usually, the cervix is at its highest during ovulation (when the egg is released, and waiting to be fertilized, in other words, when you are most fertile), and at its lowest during your period (when it opens up to let the blood out). As for using a cup, it’s important to know the position of the cervix because your menstrual cup should ideally be angled towards the cervix to ensure that there is no leakage.

Q. When and how should you find your cervix?

The location of the cervix changes throughout your menstrual cycle. If you want to check your cervix in order to buy a menstrual cup that suits you best, then you should measure it during your period, when your cervix is at its lowest.

And how do you do it?

  • Just hike one leg up on the toilet seat, or find a comfortable position that does not involve squatting (as squatting brings it much lower), and insert your longest finger (clean, of course) horizontally inside your vagina till you can go no further. Feel around and try to look for something that feels different from the rest of your vaginal walls. Your cervix should be somewhere there.

Pro Tip: Once you insert your finger inside, you might bump into the pubic bone which is more towards the front. Several women confuse the pubic bone for the cervix! The pubic bone feels hard and bone-y, while the cervix should feel more soft and pliable.

Try and check the length of the cervix using the image. You don’t need to find out exactly how many millimeters (or any other measurement), but you just need to know whether it’s too high, too low, or medium. Refer to the image below for details.

There is no ‘ideal’ when it comes to body sizes. Cervixes range anywhere between 30 mm to 70 mm. It is often said that Indian women have a high cervix length (which is, above 60 mm), but it’s definitely not the norm. The length of one’s cervix does not correlate to factors how tall/short a person is! Bear in mind that no two cervixes are the same! As unique as the human body, the length and shape of every cervix (and vagina) is entirely different!

Q. Is it really necessary to measure the cervix length?

No, but yes. It is easy to not measure your cervix length and simply go for a cup that you think will fit you best. There are women who have chosen a cup without measuring and their cups have fit them perfectly. There are others who have a low cervix and have ended up buying a cup meant for women with medium and high cervix, thus ending in them not being able to use that cup. When you have the required information to make an assured choice, you might as well measure it! All it takes is a few minutes and some research. Also, the initial investment cost of a cup is relatively high. Better be safe than sorry!

Need help in selecting the right cup? Take our Cup Quiz.

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