A vaginal speculum is a medical device that allows phys […]
A vaginal speculum is a medical device that allows physicians and health providers to better view a woman’s cervix and vagina during pelvic exams. Most specula are made of metal and plastic, and physicians insert a portion of the speculum into the patient’s vagina to separate the vaginal walls. Physicians have used devices to view inside a woman’s vagina for centuries, but physicians did not begin using what is known as a speculum in the twenty-first century until the 1800s. Prior to the invention of the modern speculum, health specialists struggled to find a way to view the cervix and vaginal walls. Because of that, health specialists could not accurately diagnose medical problems that were occurring in those tissues. Therefore, the speculum has enabled healthcare professionals to provide women with better gynecological diagnoses and care.
As of 2020, gynecologists routinely use the speculum for vaginal examinations. According to the Mayo Clinic, cervical and vaginal examinations are important in identifying abnormalities in a woman’s reproductive anatomy, such as cysts and cancers. Many women report that exams involving specula are notoriously physically and occasionally psychologically uncomfortable, mainly because of how invasive the procedure is and how the device feels inside a woman’s body. Women throughout history have claimed that usage of specula can be painful, though physicians take measures to minimize patient discomfort when performing vaginal exams with a speculum in the twenty-first century.
Prior to the 1800s, physicians used vaginal speculum-like devices for a variety of purposes in medicine. According to gynecologist Anthony Tizzano, physicians would use similar devices to cauterize wounds inside the vagina and to apply leeches to the cervical tissues for the purposes of bloodletting, or the historic practice of removing a patient’s blood for supposed therapeutic purposes. Prior to the 1800s, speculum designs were heavy and bulky, and some women found them to be uncomfortable. Most speculum devices were made of metal that, when placed inside a woman’s body, could cause pain from pinching the vaginal tissue.
In 1845, James Marion Sims opened a private makeshift hospital for slave owners to bring slave women in Montgomery, Alabama. While practicing, he treated many women who had fistulas, which are holes that form between the bladder or rectum and the vagina, causing urine and feces to enter the vagina. Women can sometimes get fistulas after long or difficult childbirths due to the neonate adding increased pressure on the vaginal walls. Women can also get fistulas caused by surgical procedures, certain forms of pelvic cancers, and prolonged, untreated urinary tract infections. Sims used a bent spoon that he inserted inside a woman’s vagina to better view the cervix and medical abnormalities. Sims named that device the Sims Speculum, which was one of the first examples of a modern speculum and is still used by some physicians in the twenty-first century. Sims stated in his unfinished autobiography that if there was anything he hated, it was investigating the organs of the female pelvis.