Though many still beg to differ

If you haven’t heard the term cervical mucus, now is the time to catch up on the feminine health circuit. While literally every single woman who has a healthy menstrual (or ovulation) cycle has periodic cervical mucus (CM), the term and the ideas surrounding it are just beginning to go mainstream.

Cervical mucus is still a relatively new topic of interest, but it is becoming a more open topic of discussion (and photo sharing) on Instagram in particular. I’m not talking about occasional mentions of CM on feminine health accounts (though those are cool, too). There are tons of these accounts broadly covering issues of infertility, hormonal birth control, pregnancy, periods, and more. I’m talking about the Instagram accounts devoted entirely to the topic of cervical mucus.

What is Cervical Mucus?

CM is exactly what it sounds like. Medical News Today reports, “Cervical mucus is fluid that the cervix releases into the vagina. It has several functions, including keeping the vagina lubricated and preventing infection.” It also tells you when you’re fertile. During your menstrual cycle, hormonal changes in your body affect the amount, texture, and look of your CM. You should notice more vaginal discharge during and a couple days after you ovulate. Some women produce enough CM during those times to see it on their underwear.

What’s the Big Deal?

Fertility awareness-based methods (FABM) like the Creighton Model have, for more than 30 years of scientific study, defined CM as a biological marker for charting monthly cycles. If you’re not familiar with FABMs, you may have mistaken this normal vaginal discharge as a cause for concern. But cervical mucus is a healthy monthly discharge. Dr. Marguerite Duane, a family physician, executive director of Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS), and adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, tells Verily, “Once a woman goes through puberty, due to normal fluctuations in hormones, she should produce cervical secretions every month. This is normal.”

CM may have an “ick” factor that comes with any mucus, but it’s something every woman should know and feel empowered to speak about with her doctor. In the meantime, some women today share photos of their cervical mucus online in dedicated forums and social-media groups, seeking answers from FABM educators and other users about the characteristics of the CM to interpret whether they’re fertile or are experiencing other health conditions.

I must admit, when I first saw women openly talking about and sharing photos of their cervical mucus on social media, I had, as Instagrammer @mycreightonjourney posts, a “squeamish response”—one that “I’m not sure I have a good explanation for.” And I still get an awkward feeling when I’m scrolling through my feed and happen upon a piece of toilet paper with what looks like a huge, egg-white-like booger on it. But, at the same time, I also can’t help but marvel at women finally starting to have clear and informed conversations about this natural healthy phenomenon.

Turning the Tide

Unfortunately, CM and its role in feminine health awareness isn’t typically addressed by medical school curriculum and thus the larger healthcare community. Decades of research behind CM has unlocked knowledge of the female body never before noticed or appreciated by pop science until relatively recently. This is why many women have taken it upon themselves to curate reliable Instagram accounts that educate and advocate for greater knowledge on cervical fluid through social media. A few of my favorite accounts include @fertilitycharting, @mycreightonjourney, and @famtasticfertility which is also run by one of the women behind the @cervicaulmucusproject. From feminine health facts, true stories, real-time cycle charting, and even photos of real women’s CM tests, these women are pioneers speaking up for the natural, unique, and incredible ways our bodies operate.

Trolling, Trolling, Trolling

The path to more open discussions on cervical mucus, however, is not without its obstacles. Posts and photos of CM have recently been receiving scrutiny by the “Instagram police,” who have reported and banned multiple images. Certified FABM educator Megan McNamara of @famtasticfertility recently shared a message from Instagram saying her post showing CM was deleted because it didn’t follow their “Community Guidelines on nudity or pornography” and that her account may be restricted or disabled if she violates these guidelines again. Commenters on her post were irate. “Whaat?! That’s RIDICULOUS!! There is SO much porn and nudity on Instagram that I’m sure they know is there, but don’t do anything about and they’re offended by cervical mucus??” commented user @canadianhoney

McNamara countered the censorship by sharing one way women can contribute to the CM awareness cause—by sending images of their cervical mucus to The Cervical Mucus Project, a website that “contains a library of Cervical Mucus media contributed anonymously by women around the world. We are breaking the taboo, spreading awareness, and innovating such a resource for you.” There, women who “are confident in your cervical mucus observations” are urged to “consider donating photos / videos of your cervical mucus to be added to this growing media library.” Meanwhile, women seeking clarity on what CM looks like in different stages of the fertile cycle can see photos categorized as “dry,” “non-peak,” or “peak” images of CM.

Whether or not you feel compelled to contribute to the project, one way we can all help move the conversation along is to simply learn more about CM and fertility awareness ourselves. Start by reading our Q&A with Dr. Marguerite Duane, who is spearheading fertility awareness in the medical community, about what that white discharge means. Or read up on eight of the most common FABMs to chart your cycle. Then start conversations about CM with the women closest to you, either in real life or in the digital sphere. When talking “cervical mucus” becomes as common as we talk about our periods, women’s fertility health may finally be at the forefront of science and technology. We’ve waited long enough.

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