What this week is all about

Women's Health Week is your week to dive into the world of women's health, to learn more and be inspired to make healthier choices. So, take a 'time-out' just for yourself, pop the kettle on and listen to what we've got in store!

Listening time: 2 mins 30

Today's top resources

Do you know what a vulva is? And the difference between a vulva and a vagina? What about those other interesting body parts: the cervix, uterus and ovaries? Get to know the basics and have your health questions answered in today’s top resources. Download what you need below and let’s kick off your journey into the world of women’s health.

Vulva and vagina fact sheet

Get to know the basics and have your vulval and vaginal health questions answered.

Get the facts

‘The vulva’ booklet

Find out what’s normal when it comes to vulval health, what causes irritation, how it can be managed and handy health tips to keep in mind.

Get in the know

Uterus, cervix and ovaries fact sheet

Learn more about these body parts and the health conditions that may affect a woman's uterus, cervix and ovaries.

Download it here

Health checks

Women's Health Week is all about making positive changes. Each day, we’ll cover a different women’s health topic and tell you about the health checks you need to stay healthy. During COVID-19, while we stayed – and are staying – home to help ‘flatten the curve’, many of us missed getting our regular health checks. This week is all about getting back on track.

Engineer woman on-site

There are two main types of regular health screening checks for taking care of your gynaecological health. For some women, getting these health checks can feel awkward, but having a regular doctor, going to a women’s health centre or sexual health clinic, or asking your female friends for their recommendations can make the process easier.

1. Cervical Screening Test

The Cervical Screening Test checks your cervix for the virus that causes cervical cancer.

Some women mistakenly believe that the Cervical Screening Test is testing for ovarian cancer; however, this is not the case. Read more on ovarian cancer in the next section. 

The Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap test in 2017. It is done in the same way as the Pap test, where your doctor or nurse takes a sample of cells from the cervix. 

Regular cervical screening tests are essential for all women who have ever had sex. Testing starts when you’re 25 years old and continues until you’re 74 years. 

You need to have a test every five years (if your results are normal). Getting tested is essential for anyone with a cervix, including:

  • If you’ve been vaccinated for HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer)
  • If you’ve ever had any kind of sex, including non-penetrative sex
  • If you’re a trans man or gender diverse.

Get the facts and learn more via our Cervical Screening Test fact sheet.

2. STI checks

STI checks are all about (yep, you guessed it!) checking for STIs – sexually transmissible infections.

And along with practising safer sex, STI checks are a vital part of protecting the health of your vulva, vagina, ovaries and uterus.

If you’re aged under 30 years and having sex, it’s recommended to have an STI check once a year or more. 

If you’re aged over 30 years, an STI check is recommended before a new sexual partner or with a change in partners.

But no matter your age, there are many situations when an extra STI check is a good idea.

For example, you may have found out that a current or previous sexual partner has an STI, or you may be experiencing symptoms such as a change in vaginal discharge or burning/stinging when urinating (weeing). 

Or, you may be visiting the doctor for something else – such as a Cervical Screening Test – and your doctor suggests doing an STI check at the same time.

If you're not sure when to have STI checks, or how often, talk to your doctor – everyone's situation is different and it's important you get the checks that are right for you. 

Remember: STI checks aren’t anything to feel embarrassed or ashamed about; they’re a normal part of healthcare. If you’re feeling unsure about your next check-up, arm yourself with confidence and get to know the process step-by-step. Read our article 'What happens when you go for an STI check'.

The serious side of STIs

One reason why STI checks are such an important part of women’s health is because some STIs can be silent and show no symptoms. You can’t tell if you (or a partner) has one just by looking. 

Line drawing of a woman

When left undiagnosed and untreated for too long, some STIs (such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea) can spread to your uterus and fallopian tubes, and have long-term impacts, such as chronic pelvic pain and infertility.

The STI syphilis may have no symptoms to start with, but can then cause an ulcer, rash and swollen glands and, many years later if untreated, chronic brain or heart complications. It is also possible for the infection to be passed from mother to baby, so a syphilis test is a part of routine antenatal care.  

On the upside, most STIs are easily treated with a simple course of medication.  

Ovarian cancer

Around 1500 women in Australia are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. Currently there are no effective tests for the early detection of ovarian cancer and no screening tests are advised.

Woman in nature

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and broad. Almost every woman will experience these symptoms at various times in their life, and in most cases the symptoms will not be caused by ovarian cancer.

The most commonly reported symptoms of ovarian cancer are: 

  • increased abdominal (tummy) size or persistent bloating
  • abdominal or pelvic pain
  • feeling full after eating a small amount
  • needing to urinate (wee) often or urgently.

It is important to know that these symptoms are almost always caused by other, less serious health issues. However, if they persist and are impacting your quality of life, speak to your doctor.

If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about options for managing your risk and your concerns. Find out more, including additional symptoms via Ovarian Cancer Australia.

Quiz | Vulvas & vaginas: same-same but different?

Family in the vegie patch

From birthing babies to having orgasms, vulvas and vaginas do some pretty extraordinary things!
Take our quiz to learn more about these amazing body parts and how to best take care of them.
  1. The vulva is the inside passage of the female reproductive system

    The vulva is the general name for the outside parts. It includes the inner and outer lips (labia), the clitoris, the urethral opening (where your urine/wee comes out) and the vaginal opening. 

    The inside passage that starts at your vulva and ends at the cervix? That’s the vagina.

  2. Vaginas come in all shapes and sizes

    Scientific studies have revealed that vaginas can vary significantly in their length and general shape. (Remember, the vagina is the internal passage or tube).

    One study from 2006 revealed that vaginal lengths can range from 4cm to 9.5cm, while an earlier study recorded lengths of up to 15cm.

    In a study from 2003 on vaginal shape, researchers concluded that there were five general shapes: cone, heart, slug, pumpkin seed, and parallel sides. However, more recent research  from a larger study found that "the shape of the tube is not symmetrical or similar to any known geometric shape".

  3. A healthy vagina is more acidic than the rest of your body

    Even though it doesn't sound particularly healthy, having an acidic vaginal environment is very important for keeping this body part in good health.

    A healthy vagina has high levels of the ‘good’ bacteria known as Lactobacillus, which produce high levels of lactic acid. It is this acidic environment that protects the vagina from infection and helps to minimise the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria and yeast. 

    This is why it’s important to avoid practices that can affect the natural balance of the vagina, such as douching or using soaps or perfumed products on your vulva or vagina. The vagina (the internal tube) is a self-cleaning organ – so, in terms of cleaning and 'maintenance', it’s best just to let it do its thing.

  4. The clitoris is about the same size as a pea

    We tend to think of the clitoris as being quite small, but there is much more to this body part that meets the eye. It’s is a bit like an iceberg; we can only see the very tip of the clitoris and there is much, much more of this body part hidden beneath the surface.

    While the external tip is indeed typically quite small, underneath the skin of the vulva, there are two arms of the clitoris that extend outwards. These arms (known as crura) are surprisingly long, measuring between 5-9cm in length.

    There are also two internal bulbs that make up the rest of the clitoris, hidden beneath the skin. These bulbs extend downwards from the tip and measure between 3-7cm long. View a diagram to see its shape.

  5. Hormones can affect vaginal discharge

    For women who get their periods and are not on hormonal contraception, your vaginal discharge throughout the month can hint at the high and lows of certain hormones.

    In the middle of your cycle, when the hormone oestrogen is high, vaginal discharge often increases a lot – and it’s often stretchy (like egg white), or thin and watery. 

    In weeks 3 and 4 before your period hits, you may notice a smaller amount of discharge, or it may be 'sticky' or 'tacky'. This is because of rising levels of the hormone progesterone. 

    Many hormonal contraceptives can affect your discharge because of the hormones they contain. For example, it's common for women who take the Pill to have a whitish vaginal discharge quite consistently throughout the month.

    Remember though, everyone is different. Read more about hormones and discharge here.

  6. Vaginas are supposed to smell like flowers

    Vaginas, quite simply, and supposed to smell like vaginas. They are not supposed to smell like flowers or coconuts or fresh mountain air!

    There are many different healthy vagina smells: from tangy and sour, to coppery, metallic, earthy, sweaty, sweet or even skunky.  And the smell can change depending on where you are in your cycle.

    An abnormal vaginal smell is a strong offensive smell (occasionally caused by accidentally leaving a tampon in for way too long) or a strong fishy smell – this is often caused by a condition known as bacterial vaginosis (BV) or the sexually transmissible infection (STI) trichomoniasis. Both will need attention from a doctor.

  7. Your vulva and vagina will change throughout your life

    Just like your other body parts and tissues, the vagina and vulva can be affected by changes that come with age and different life stages, from infancy to postmenopause.

    Some common changes include thinning of the vulval skin due to the hormonal changes of menopause, or a darkening of the vulval skin during pregnancy because of the increased blood flow to the area.

  8. Nice work!

    You got out of 7 correct

    We hope you've learnt a little bit more about these amazing and important body parts. If you are concerned about the health of your vagina or vulva for any reason, or if something doesn't seem right or normal for you, don't suffer in silence. Speak to your trusted doctor – not Dr Google!

We’re all different downstairs

Many women worry that their vulva doesn’t look ‘normal’, but when it comes to vulval appearance there is no such thing as normal.

Many women worry that their vulva doesn’t look ‘normal’, but when it comes to vulval appearance there is no such thing as normal.

In the real world, the labia minora (the inner lips) are often lopsided, they can hang outside the labia majora (the outer lips), and come in all shapes, sizes and colours.

The only ‘normal’ you need to worry about is what is normal for you. Get out a handheld mirror and get familiar with how your vulva looks and feels; that way you’ll know sooner when something isn’t right. Or, explore the wonderful world of vulvas in all their variety by looking at photos of real-life vulvas in the Labia Library.   

Note: many of the vulvas in the Labia Library have had their pubic hair removed for better visibility.  

Today's video now streaming

Your top questions answered by our expert gynaecologist.

Join us as we sit down for a chat with Jean Hailes Medical Director and gynaecologist Dr Elizabeth Farrell, covering everything you want to know about vulvas and vaginas, but are perhaps too embarrassed to ask. We’ll also bust some big myths and sort the facts from fiction when it comes to taking care of these body parts.

Clearing up the confusion of soy

Vulval and vaginal dryness is a common issue that affects women at midlife. It can cause discomfort and pain, particularly during sex. 

Along with hot flushes and night sweats, vulval and vaginal dryness occurs because of the drop in the hormone oestrogen during menopause.

But did you know that eating linseeds and  whole soy foods such as tofu and tempeh may help?

Many people mistakenly believe that eating soy can have harmful effects on their hormonal health, but Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella is here to clear up the confusion.

We delve into which soy foods she recommends, which ones to stay away from and how much you need to eat to reap the rewards.

Tofu & pumpkin curry

Today’s recipe ticks the box of nutritious and delicious.

Tofu is rich in plant-based protein and calcium, and can be helpful in lowering the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol.

Together with colourful pumpkin and crunchy cashews, this is tofu turned tasty for your meat-free Monday meal.

Vulval and vaginal pain

It’s a topic often not talked about, but chronic vulval and/or vaginal pain is a troublesome symptom for many women. So let’s do away with the shyness and silence and bring this topic out into the open. 

Learn about the conditions that cause pain, how to tell them apart, and when you might need to seek help.

Sexual healthcare in your teens, 20s and beyond

No matter your age, sexual healthcare is important for every woman. But what does sexual healthcare look like in your teens and 20s? And how does it differ in your 40s or 60s – or beyond?

Woman on her phone

Here we talk about some common issues that crop up at different ages, and how to best take care of your sexual health throughout your life.

More reading and resources

Understanding endometriosis

This booklet is an introduction to the condition of endometriosis and is ideal for girls and women who have been newly diagnosed.

View booklet

A new app for endometriosis

The newly launched QENDO app has been created to support women with endometriosis. Track, record, journal and share your symptoms and triggers.

Learn more

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Browse our webpages and learn more about the causes, signs and symptoms of PCOS, how it is diagnosed and what treatments are available to help.

Dive in

Health checks e-Booklet

This illustrated e-Booklet is your personal guide to the different health checks required through the journey of life.

Looking for an event?

We know Women’s Health Week looks a little different this year depending on where you live, but there are events happening all over Australia.  Some are online and others are face to face.

It’s important, more than ever, to stay connected with your friends, family and community, so visit our events page to see if there's the perfect event near you..

Move it Monday!

Get a free LIVE workout at 9am AEST this morning (Monday) with Women's Health Week ambassador Sam Woods on the 28 by Sam Wood Facebook page.

Settle in with our e-Magazine

The latest digital edition of the Jean Hailes Magazine awaits, brimming with feature articles, health information and delicious recipes.

Bonus recipe

If you're short on time but don't want to skimp on flavour, these deconstructed tacos are a simple but nutritious Mexican fix.

Ask Dr Jean

This question was submitted by a reader to our column, Ask Dr Jean. It’s been answered by gynaecologist and Jean Hailes Medical Director, Dr Elizabeth Farrell AM.

I'm a 71 year-old woman who has not had sex for 13 years, but I've recently begun an intimate relationship with a man. The sex is terrific, but I suspect I'm suffering from clitoral atrophy as, even though I'm very sensitive and aroused, it is really difficult for my partner or me to find the clitoris. Can you help?

Explore even more...


Often called the 'sister' condition of endometriosis, adenomyosis affects the uterus. Learn how to spot the signs and symptoms, as well as how it is diagnosed and treated.

View webpage

Fact sheets

Discover Jean Hailes fact sheets on a wide variety of women's health topics – from heart health and menopause to breast health and health checks. Some are also available in different languages.

Explore here

Listen up!

Access our podcasts featuring Jean Hailes expert clinicians. Learn about painful sex or what to do if you have an itchy or irritated vulva.

Grab your headphones

Download the Women's Health Week eCard to share. Don't forget to use the hashtag #WomensHealthWeek.

Illustration by Tonia Composto.

Tell us what you think

We'd love to hear your thoughts on Women's Health Week 2020 - what you liked, what you didn’t, and what you want to see more of next year.