Have you ever taken a look at your own vulva and vagina? Like, a real look, up close and personal? Chances are, the answer is “no,” because it’s not a body part most of us are ever taught to actually look at. In fact, many people with vaginas are taught from a young age—either implicitly or explicitly—that their vulvas and vaginas are gross, shameful, and even dirty.
Well, that perspective is going to stop right now, because we’re all about vulva- and vagina-positivity here. In fact, we’re going to talk about the best way you can really get to know your Vs: Vaginal mirror exercises, which will help you explore and understand your anatomy. Our goal is to alleviate some of the shame and fear many people—whether they have vaginismus or not—associate with this part of their body.
The purpose of these exercises is threefold:
1. Familiarize yourself with your anatomy. Many people lack knowledge about their inner and outer genitalia. Understanding how your vagina, uterus, labia, and clitoris function can foster acceptance of your body.
2. Identify tension patterns. Mirrors allow you to observe how your body reacts during a vaginismus episode, guiding relaxation techniques. Notice where you hold tension and practice focusing on that area to release it.
3. Dismantle negative body image. Repeatedly observing your vulva in a non-judgmental manner can improve self-esteem and promote body positivity. You begin to see the beauty in your unique shape, size, and texture.
How to do vaginal mirror exercises
First, you have to get a mirror. You have two options: Grab one you already have that’s big enough for you to sit in front of or buy a special vaginal mirror. Either one works; it really just depends on what you’re comfortable with and whether or not you want to spend any money.
Get set up in a private, comfortable environment where you won’t be bothered for a while. Your bedroom is a great spot, or maybe your bathroom with a nice pillow to sit on. Then, start with just looking, before carefully exploring your anatomy:
1. Spread your labia gently.
The labia is the “lips” of your vulva. There are two sets: inner (labia minora) and outer (labia majora). The outer labia is the fleshy part where hair grows. The inner labia is the hairless, thinner set that swell up when you’re aroused.
Lift and separate the labia majora and minora to explore in detail. What do you see? What surprises you? Notice the texture of the skin on your labia minora and observe what happens when your vagina starts to produce natural lubrication or “get wet.”
2. Notice the clitoris.
The clitoris also has two major parts, one on the outside of your body and one on the inside. The external clitoris is like a little button at the top of your inner labia that is super sensitive: It has over 8,000 nerve endings and is the only human body part that scientists believe exist solely for pleasure. It’s usually covered by a “hood,” which you can pull back to see the external clitoris or which might pull back on its own when you’re aroused.
You can’t see the internal clitoris in a mirror, but let’s talk about it for a minute as well because it’s kind of a big deal. The internal clitoris consists mainly of two bulb-shaped “caverns” that straddle your vaginal canal and fill with blood when you’re aroused. That swelling brings the clitoral nerves closer to the walls of your vaginal canal, which is one of the reasons penetrative sex feels good for some people.
Take some time to explore your external clitoris. Pull back the hood if it’s still covering the head of your clitoris. Gently touch to determine sensitivity and what pressure feels good. You might also want to use some lube for this part, or spit works as well.
Pay attention to what you’re feeling in your body while you do this step. For many people with vaginas, the clitoris is the key to sexual pleasure. However, people with vaginismus may begin to tense up when they start to get aroused because they associate arousal with pain. If that’s the case for you, always feel free to take a break. Be gentle with yourself.
3. Trace the vaginal opening.
Now we’re going to move down to the vaginal opening. This is an area that many people with vaginismus struggle with. If penetration has been difficult for you, you might find that exploring your vaginal opening brings up a lot of feelings. That’s okay! You can choose to sit with those feelings or, if it’s starting to feel like too much, you can always, always put the mirror away and come back to it another time.
If your vagina hasn’t produced much lubrication on its own at this point, now is a good time to reach for the lube or to put a little bit of saliva on your fingers. Then, take your fingers and spread your inner labia in order to get a clear view at your vaginal opening. You’re welcome to stay here, simply observing, or you can move on to gently circling the vaginal opening with a finger. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and don’t hesitate to take breaks if you need them.
How often should I do vaginal mirror exercises?
When it comes to how often you should do these exercises, keep this mantra in mind: Be consistent—but don’t obsess. The goal is improved body image, self-awareness, and relaxation, not perfection. So aim for a reasonable routine that works for you.
Be sure to listen to your body and mind as you’re getting into this routine. Only do the exercises when you feel ready and willing; forcing yourself to do them more often than feels natural will not do any good. And take breaks as needed! If you start to feel stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed, scale back to a less frequent schedule for a while.
Mirror exercises are also just one tool in your arsenal as you move toward the goal of improving vaginismus symptoms. They work best when combined with dilation training, physical therapy, sex therapy and psychological support. Learn more about vaginismus self-treatment here.
Do you need support? Check out HelloGina, our holistic digital therapy program, including but not limited to practical exercises like this one to help you overcome vaginismus.
What should I do if vaginal mirror exercises hurt?
These exercises are here to help you feel more comfortable with and in your body, so they shouldn’t hurt. However, we know that people who are living with vaginismus are likely to encounter some pain any time their vulva or vagina is involved. If that’s the case for you, here are some tips for what to do if you experience pain during vaginal mirror exercises:
· Stop immediately. Do not force yourself to continue if it's painful. Pain is your body's way of signaling discomfort.
· Take some deep breaths to relax. Tensing up will only exacerbate any pain. Try exhaling slowly and fully to relax your muscles.
· Loosen or remove any tight-fitting clothing. This can help you feel less restricted.
· Check your position. Are you hunched over, putting too much pressure on your pelvic area? Adjust to a more comfortable stance.
· Give yourself time. Don't rush back into the exercises right away. Take a break for the rest of the day or even a few days to decompress.
· Go slower next time. Ease into the movements gradually, going at a much slower pace. Only progress as much as feels comfortable.
· Use additional lubricant. Dryness can cause irritation and pain, so use more lubricant to ease any discomfort.
· Try a different type of exercise. If the current exercise causes pain, switch to simply looking with no touching for now.
· Consult a doctor. If the pain persists or feels abnormal, seek medical advice. A gynecologist can examine you for any underlying issues.
· Be gentle with yourself. Pain can trigger feelings of shame or inadequacy, so practice self-compassion during this process.
Remember: Any progress is good progress, even if it's baby steps. The most important thing is listening to your body's feedback and responding appropriately. Over time, as you grow more comfortable with these exercises, the pain should lessen. But never push through pain and always ease into movements gradually and gently.
Approach these exercises with compassion for your body. Discover what brings you pleasure through self-exploration, then share this knowledge with partners to foster intimacy and sexual confidence. Over time, vaginal mirror exercises may reduce vaginismus symptoms as you gain comfort, body acceptance and self-love. Your genitals are beautiful just as they are—a perfect starting place for your journey of recovery.