Like any hostess worth her salt, your vagina is usually happy to accommodate visitors...as long as they don't overstay their welcome. But sometimes things get lodged inside the vaginal canal and are so hard to retrieve, it seems like you'll need the gynecological version of the jaws of life to make things right. It's like your vagina's taunting you, saying, "You want this thing out? You'll have to pry it from my warm, wet walls lol good luck." Fortunately, if you do lose control of a tampon or wayward condom, there are a few actions you can take to make it easier to remove. And if it comes to it, a medical practitioner can also lend a hand. Either way, rest easy: You won't have to walk around with this random thing inside of you for the rest of your days.
The most common objects people get stuck in their vaginas are...
...tampons and birth control methods like condoms, diaphragms, and sponges, Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-author of V Is For Vagina, tells SELF. The NuvaRing, another form of contraception, and estrogen-providing rings women can use after menopause to relieve issues like vaginal dryness, can also get caught up there, Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School, tells SELF. "I actually had one woman who came in with three [estrogen] rings because she forgot she hadn't taken out the previous ones. That's my personal best," says Minkin.
And the typical rescue signal is an olfactory one.__
While you'll probably immediately notice that something like a condom or diaphragm has gone MIA, it might take more time to realize a tampon has disappeared into the vaginal ether. Sometimes people simply forget they have one in, or even accidentally put a fresh tampon in on top of an old one. The main tip-off that a tampon's still hanging around? A persistent odor, says Minkin.
You don't need to worry about a tampon, condom, or other object somehow wandering up through the rest of your body.
Your vagina isn't an open-ended tube — your cervix is there to make sure things like harmful bacteria and, yes, tampons, condoms, and the like, can't just travel around willy-nilly. Yes, it opens, like to allow a baby to pass through, but it does a heck of a job preventing things from going the other way. "Something like a condom or tampon is too big to go anywhere besides the vagina," says Dweck. That said, it's still in your best interest to get the object out posthaste, especially if it's a tampon. "Pulling [an old tampon] out is usually treatment enough in and of itself, however with a tampon that's retained, there's always a slim chance of toxic shock syndrome," says Dweck. It's very rare, with only 26 U.S. women reporting cases of TSS in 2015, but still worth being cautious about.
In terms of actually getting whatever it is out, you have a few options.
"You can do something relaxing like take a warm shower or bath, insert your index finger into the vagina, gently brush around until you feel the foreign body, then try to scoop it out," says Dweck. Putting some lubricant on your finger might make this easier, she adds. As you feel around, it might help to get into a squatting position and bear down like you're trying to push it out, says Minkin.
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Or you can take your efforts outside of the shower. "Another option, if you have a cooperative partner, is to put your heels up like you're in a pelvic exam and they can feel around inside your vagina to see if they can grasp this thing," says Minkin. (This article would be remiss without mentioning the iconic Sex and the City scene in which Samantha proved she was a true ride or die friend by fishing around for Carrie's stuck diaphragm.)
If the culprit is a condom and you're able to get it out on your own, breathe a sigh of relief. Then, if you're not on the Pill (or if you are but you don't use it perfectly), get your hands on some form of emergency contraception, says Dweck. If you don't have access to something like the morning after pill but you do have birth control pills, depending on the brand you can use those as emergency contraception instead. And if you don't know the STI status of the person you were having sex with, Dweck suggests making an appointment with an ob/gyn or other healthcare provider to get STI tests and potentially treatment for infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea, just in case.
Be prepared to call in a professional.
If you can't get the stuck object out on your own, that's normal. Sometimes these things are tough to reach because they're wedged up in the vaginal fornix, which Minkin describes as "little corners behind where the cervix dips down into the vagina." Know that there is zero shame in seeing a doctor about this. "People get really sheepish, but I guarantee you're not the only person I'm going to see this month for this. We see it all the time," says Minkin. And removal is pretty simple — your ob/gyn or nurse practitioner will insert a speculum, then use what basically amounts to a long set of tweezers to pull out whatever's refusing to budge. Problem solved.
This article originally appeared on SELF.