From a lack of lubrication to fluctuating hormones, there’s plenty of reasons
Sex should always be mutually pleasurable, safe, enjoyable and should never hurt. At the same time, there are lots of reasons why you might get a sore vagina, or a sore vulva, after the act.
Of course, there’s the obvious one – you were a little too rigorous – but if getting down is causing you pain, and it’s not completely clear why, it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.
Note: if you are having recurrent issues after sex, then it’s advisable to check in with your GP, to see what might be going on. You should also never be pressured into any form of sexual activity which you are worried will cause you pain.
Why might I have a sore vagina after sex?
There are lots of reasons why you might feel pain after sex. ‘Most of the time women experience soreness post-sex due to friction,’ says GP Dr Jane Leonard. ‘However, if you have a pre-existing skin problem, the soreness can be much worse.’
Painful intercourse is known as dyspareunia. It’s important to understand when and where you’re feeling pain. Is it during or after sex? Do you have a sore vagina after sex, or is the pain deep, internal pelvic pain?
From a lack of lubrication to fluctuating hormones and even latex allergies: we’ve spoken to the experts and rounded up the most common reasons why you might get a sore vagina after sex.
Why does my vagina hurt after sex?
1. Your vagina hurts after sex because: You have an infection
‘Pain in or around the vagina could be caused by an infection,’ suggests Dr Leonard. This could be something like thrush, or it could be a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or genital herpes.
If you’re experiencing pain during or after sex, it’s always a good idea to visit your local sexual health clinic and ask for a full screening.
2. Your vagina hurts after sex because: Your hormones have changed
Changing hormone levels – which could be down to the menopause, perimenopause or even pregnancy – could be making your vagina dry, meaning there’s not enough lubrication during sex. This dryness could lead to some pain and soreness both during and after sex. The solution? Lots of lube. If you need help with the symptoms of perimenopause more widely, head to your GP, who can help with medication.
3. Your vagina hurts after sex because: You’re not sexually aroused
Similarly to hormone changes, if you’re not feeling ‘in the mood’, you might not be producing enough lubrication – leaving your vagina dry. This can cause sex to become painful, and leave you with friction sores afterwards. Don’t force sex. If you’re not feeling it, do not feel any pressure to go ahead. However, if you’re feeling dry but do want to have sex, using lube is key.
In this Article
- Personal Products
Vulvodynia is chronic pain around the opening of your vagina in the area of your vulva. It isnвЂ™t known exactly what causes it. But thereвЂ™s plenty you can do to ease the symptoms. Use these self-care tips to control the pain and keep it from getting worse.
ItвЂ™s important to keep your vaginal area cool and dry.
Wear white cotton underwear during the day and sleep without it at night. Steer clear of tight-fitting skirts and pants. If you wear pantyhose or tights, switch to thigh-high or knee-length options that donвЂ™t block airflow to the vaginal area. When you swim or exercise, remove wet or sweaty clothing quickly.
The products you use to clean your clothes may irritate your vaginal area.
Use gentle detergent thatвЂ™s been approved by dermatologists. Double-rinse underwear in the wash to make sure theyвЂ™re free of soap or chemicals. DonвЂ™t use fabric softener.
Switch to a soft, white, unscented brand of toilet paper. Use only 100% cotton pads and tampons. Avoid scented, perfumed creams, soaps, and bubble bath.
Be gentle when you wash. Use cool or lukewarm water and your hand, then a clean towel to dry off. Keep shampoo, which can flow down from your head while showering, away from your vaginal area.
To create a barrier between your vagina and clothing, apply petroleum jelly to your vulva after showering.
Avoid hot tubs and highly chlorinated pools. Instead, soak in a sitz bath a few times a day for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
What you eat may have an effect on your symptoms, for better or for worse.
Processed foods, and those that have caffeine, acid, and lots of sugar can make symptoms worse. Try taking one thing out of your diet at a time. Keep track of how your body reacts.
Pressure on your bladder and bowel can cause vulvodynia to flare up. Pee regularly instead of waiting for your bladder to be full, and rinse the vaginal area with water afterwards to clean it off. Add fiber to your diet to help you stay regular.
Protect yourself before sex by applying a water-soluble lubricant. Avoid contraceptive creams and spermicides. If you want to temporarily numb the area, try a topical anesthetic, like lidocaine gel.
After sex, pee and rinse with cool or lukewarm water to clean around your vagina. If you feel a burning sensation, wrap a frozen ice cube or gel pack in a small towel and hold it gently on your vagina for a few minutes.
Anything that puts external pressure on your vaginal area can make vulvodynia worse. Focus on stretching and relaxation exercises, like yoga, instead of bike or horseback riding.
Stand as often as you can, especially if you work at a desk. Try a foam rubber donut for a softer sitting surface.
Mayo Clinic: “Vulvodynia.”
National Vulvodynia Association: “What is Vulvodynia?” “What Causes Vulvodynia?”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Vulvodynia.”
Vaginitis is soreness and swelling in and around the vagina. It’s common and usually treatable.
Check if you have vaginitis
Symptoms of vaginitis include:
- an itchy or sore vagina
- vaginal discharge that’s a different colour, smell or thickness to usual
- vaginal dryness
- pain when peeing or having sex
- light vaginal bleeding or spotting
- sore, swollen or cracked skin around your vagina
You might not have all these symptoms.
Causes of vaginitis
Vaginitis has lots of possible causes.
Your symptoms might give you an idea what’s causing it. But do not self diagnose, get medical help if you’re worried.
|White and lumpy discharge (like cottage cheese), itching and soreness||Thrush|
|Yellow, green or smelly discharge, pain when peeing or having sex||A sexually transmitted infection like trichomoniasis or chlamydia|
|A dry, itchy vagina and pain when having sex||Hormone changes from the menopause, breastfeeding or some types of contraception|
|Itchy, sore patches around your vagina and on other parts of your body||A skin condition like eczema or lichen planus|
Vaginitis can also be caused by irritation (for example, from soap), an injury to your vagina or something in your vagina (like a tampon).
Non-urgent advice: See a GP or go to a sexual health clinic if:
- you have symptoms of vaginitis for the first time
- you’ve had vaginitis before, but the symptoms are bothering you a lot, are different to usual or are not getting better
- you have vaginal discharge that’s unusual for you
- you have symptoms of vaginitis after having sex with a new partner
- you have other symptoms like feeling hot and shivery or pain in your lower tummy (pelvic pain)
Do not have sex until you’ve seen a doctor or nurse. You could have a sexually transmitted infection.
Sexual health clinics can help with vaginitis
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment. They’ll often get test results quicker than GP surgeries.
What happens at your appointment
To find out what’s causing your vaginitis, a doctor or nurse may:
- ask about any sexual partners you have
- look at the skin around your vagina
- look inside your vagina (pelvic examination)
Having a pelvic examination
- You’ll be asked to remove your underwear and lie on your back.
- The doctor or nurse will gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (speculum) into your vagina to hold it open so they can see inside.
- A small cotton bud (swab) may be wiped inside your vagina to check for infections.
You can ask the doctor or nurse to stop at any point if you find it too uncomfortable.
Treatments for vaginitis from a doctor
Treatment for vaginitis depends on the cause.
For example, you may need:
- antifungal medicine for thrush
- antibiotics for a sexually transmitted infection
- vaginal moisturiser, lubricant or hormone treatment for menopause symptoms
- steroid medicine for a skin condition
Things you can do to help vaginitis
There are things you can do to ease symptoms of vaginitis and reduce your chances of getting it again.
wash around your vagina with water and dry thoroughly
wear loose, cotton underwear
use pads instead of tampons when you’re on your period
use condoms and lubrication when having sex
do not clean inside your vagina (douching)
do not have hot baths
do not use scented hygiene products in or around your vagina, such as soaps and deodorants
Page last reviewed: 03 February 2020
Next review due: 03 February 2023
Soreness after a workout: yay! Soreness after sex: nay.
Listen: As someone who enjoys the feeling of soreness post-workout, I can assure you that I do not feel the same way the morning after a different kind of sweat sesh. And just a guess, but I’m going to assume that a sore vagina after sex doesn’t feel too great for you either.
For one, you might not know why or what is causing the soreness—which is, like, super irritating. Second, you may not know how to help or soothe your sore vagina because sex ed contributed *literally* nothing to your sexual wellness knowledge. And third, you can’t easily engage in round two or three or four with your S.O. the morning after because, um…ouch.
But don’t fret: Soreness after sex, for the most part, is totally normal. We enlisted the help of three experts who can fully explain what’s going on down there when it feels like you need ice cubes stat.
First, though, brief anatomy lesson: It’s important to distinguish the difference between the vagina and vulva when assessing which of these reasons below could be the culprit for your soreness.
“Many women will report they have vaginal pain when in fact they have vulvar pain. The vagina is internal genitalia. The vulva is what you see on the outside, all the way up to the entrance of the vagina but not inside,” says physical therapist Heather Jeffcoat, author of Sex Without Pain: A Self Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve. Got it? Now, let’s continue.
The Reasons Your Vagina Could Be Sore After Sex
- You’re not using enough lube. I realize Cosmo as a whole probably sounds like a broken record by now, but come on, y’all. if you’re not on the lube train yet, WYD? “Not using enough—or any!—lube can definitely cause a sore vagina,” says gynecologist Mary Jane Minkin, MD, contributing member of the Vagisil vSHE Council. What this means = extra, extra, extra foreplay to make sure you’re aroused, then use a silicone-based lube like this one here.
- You’re allergic to latex. “Some people experience sensitivity to latex condoms, which can lead to dryness or irritation in the vaginal canal and surrounding tissue,” says sex therapist Shannon Chavez, who specializes in treating sexual disorders and is also an expert for Vagisil. Opt for these non-latex options to see if it helps.
- You have endometriosis. This is a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of it, which can lead to painful sex. “Endometriosis can cause inflammation in the pelvic area and can lead to pain or soreness after sex,” says Chavez. Schedule a checkup with your gyno to assess if this is something you have.
Is it normal to experience soreness after sex?
Look, sex should not hurt. Period. If it does, you should schedule an appointment with your gyno ASAP. But it’s definitely normal to experience soreness sometimes. Key word: sometimes. “If soreness is happening every time, it should be addressed to prevent further pain and discomfort,” says Chavez. BUT: It can be v common if you’re experimenting with new positions and/or intensity during sexual activity, she adds.
Is there anything you can do to help the soreness after sex?
“Apply an ice pack to your vulva, which will help reduce the swelling and pain,” says Chavez. Heating pads and cool water cones are also A+ options. But again, in order to prevent most cases of soreness, you should be doubling down on the lube and using more than you even think you should be using. Also, spend an extra 5 to 10 minutes focusing on foreplay. Sometimes, that will make all the difference.
See? Sore vaginas are pretty much totally normal and can be prevented with a few of the right steps. But if you do experience pain regularly during or after sex, “see your gyno provider, as we can help with this—whether it’s soreness right after sex or pain that arises a few days later,” says Dr. Minkin.
Cheers to no more sore vaginés everrr again!
Snuggles, snacks, a shower. These are the things we expect to experience after sex. Sadly, for some people with vaginas, those delicacies are sometimes replaced or accompanied by something a lot less comfortable: a sore vulva and/or sore vagina.
“Vaginal soreness is quite common after sex,” says somatic sex expert, explains Kiana Reeves sex and community educator with Foria, a company that creates products intended to reduce pain and increase pleasure during sex. “But not all soreness is okay, some soreness is a sign that something has gone wrong.”
A sore vagina after sex that results from a sexperiment gone awry (think: fisting) or from consensual, risk-aware rough sex gone very right (think: doggy style for days) is totally fine. “A one-off instance of soreness or pain after sex is not a cause for alarm,” says Heather Jeffcoat, D.P.T., doctor of physical therapy specializing in sexual dysfunction and incontinence and author of Sex Without Pain: A Self-Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve.
However, frequent vaginal soreness after sex suggests that something is not quite right. If you regularly find yourself keeled over, gripping your lower belly or crotch, or hurting post-play, you may want to chat with a health care provider. “Any frequent, raw, or burning soreness, as well as soreness accompanied by other symptoms such as bleeding, discolored discharge, or pain while peeing needs to be addressed,” says Reeves. (Read: 8 Reasons You Might Experience Pain After Sex)
Curious to learn some of the common reasons why you might have a sore vagina after sex? Plus, what should you do to stop the pain in its tracks, short- and long-term? Read this for a good place to start.
Potential Reasons for a Sore Vagina After Sex
Your Hymen Broke
If it’s the first time you’ve explored vaginal penetration, it’s possible that the soreness is from the breakage of a small swath of tissue that covers part of the vaginal canal, known as the hymen, tearing, according to Felice Gersh, M.D., author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness. While many people’s hymens (naturally) break or tear prior to the first time they have sex (during activities including horseback riding, biking, exercising, using tampons, or masturbating), that’s not always the case. And for those with intact hymens that break during penetrative play, the experience can be uncomfortable in the moment and also lead to soreness for a few hours afterward, according to Dr. Gersh. (Related: What Is a Hymen and What Does a Hymen Breaking Actually Mean?)
You Have a Low-Key Infection
A super common reason you may have a sore vagina after sex is actually that the sex triggered symptoms of an infection you already had, according to Dr. Gersh. “If someone has a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia, the vaginal tissues are already inflamed, even if the person wasn’t experiencing any symptoms,” she says. “The rubbing of those already-inflamed tissues during sex can result in a feeling or rawness, soreness, irritation, or pain after sex,” she says. Luckily, all five infections can be cured within a few days with proper treatment.
You’re Allergic to Something
Another common reason you might have a sore vagina after sex is that you have a sensitivity or allergy to one of the ingredients in the lube, sex toys, or barriers (ex: dental dams) you used. “Latex allergy is well-documented, but that’s not the only kind of allergy or sensitivity that can come into play here,” says Dr. Gersh. “It’s possible to be allergic or sensitive to any of the ingredients in the lube coating the condoms or the lube you added.”
In the case of an allergy, the soreness is typically accompanied by itchiness, burning, hives, and swelling. While extremely rare, allergies to semen (known medically as seminal plasma hypersensitivity) create many of the same aforementioned symptoms. (And FYI, noticing some swelling in your vulva after sex is totally normal, considering those tissues become flooded with blood when you’re aroused.)
Your Pelvic Floor Muscles Are Sore
Rather than being dermal (skin-related) or structural, the reason you have a sore vagina after sex may be muscular.
Background: Everyone has a sling of muscles that run hip-to-hip, bellybutton-to-bum, known as the pelvic floor muscles. When you orgasm, these muscles contract and relax super fast over and over again. If your orgasm is especially long, or you orgasm more than once (fun!) it’s possible for these muscles to be a lil sore following sex.
Further, some people have over-reactive or non-relaxing pelvic floor muscles, which essentially means their pelvic floor muscles are always or almost always in a contracted position. (This is the pelvic floor equivalent to walking around with your arm flexed “💪” all the time). For these folks, “the forced stretch of these muscles that occurs during penetration can also lead to soreness,” says Dr. Jeffcoat. For someone with one of these underlying pelvic floor conditions, going from zero to penetrative sex is equivalent to an immobile person trying to do a split and stretching too much too soon. “Your muscles will be quite sore after,” she says. (Related: What a Pelvic Floor Therapist Wants You to Know About Vaginal Dilators)
Someone with weak or non-reactive pelvic floor muscles can also experience muscular soreness following sex. As Jeffcoat puts it, “Pelvic floor muscles are skeletal or voluntary muscles, just like the other muscles we train at the gym.” Meaning, they aren’t exempt from these types of soreness or injuries. However, if the post-sex pain you’re experiencing feels muscular and you also experience other common symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction (such as urinary issues, lower back pain, constipation, pelvic pressure), she recommends connecting with a pelvic floor therapist.
You Weren’t Lubricated Well Enough
This might just be the number one reason you might experience a sore vagina after sex. Anytime lubrication levels are low, friction levels can be high. And when friction levels go up, so do soreness levels. Sure, the vaginal canal produces its own arousal fluid, but that’s not always enough (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). Body-made lubricant levels can vary because of water intake, alcohol intake, substance use, activity level, mental and physical health status, and so much more.
Among those, “low estrogen can also be to blame for soreness in the vaginal canal,” adds Dr. Jeffcoat. People may become low on this essential lubricating hormone when they are postpartum, breastfeeding, or going through menopause. “When your body lacks estrogen, the vaginal canal does not lubricate as well, which can lead to unwanted friction during penetration, and subsequent post-coital soreness,” she says. Certain hormonal birth control options can also lead to low estrogen and therefore cause this unwanted symptom, says Dr. Gersh.
All that said, if your lubrication levels have drastically changed or store-bought lube isn’t cutting it, talk to your doc, as there are a number of prescription lubricants, moisturizing creams, and pills that can support natural lubrication levels.
Literally Just Friction and Pressure
And on that note, finally, it’s also possible that you and your boo just went too hard, too rough, too fast, or were moving at iffy angles. The angle of the cervix usually changes throughout the menstrual cycle, so the deep angle you enjoy with doggy style at one stage in your cycle could actually be so deep that it brushes up against (and even bruises!) your cervix at other stages, explains Dr. Gersh. Changing positions or depth should be all you need to replace the “ouch!” with “ooh.”
TIMESOFINDIA.COM | Last updated on – Jul 18, 2021, 06:50 IST
01 /6 Five simple home remedies to soothe vaginal itching and burning
Monsoon is the most common season when women suffer from vaginal itching, dryness and burning. Though these signs are not usually a symbol of anything serious, that doesn’t mean these should be ignored. Vaginal itching and dryness can be due to bacterial infection, yeast infection or eczema. Using hard soaps and body wash can also irritate the skin around the vulva and cause such problems.
Sometimes itching and dryness are accompanied by redness and swelling in and around the vagina, which can make it uncomfortable for you. To stop vaginal itching, one needs to maintain proper hygiene. However, there are also a few home remedies that can provide you relief from the painful symptoms.
02 /6 Yogurt and honey
The prebiotic nature of yoghurt helps in treating vaginal itching and burning. Yogurt when combined with honey can help in two ways – first, the anti-inflammatory properties of honey and the soothing effect of yogurt helps you get rid of irritation and second the probiotic compound in yogurt can help in correcting the imbalance in bacteria, reducing your risk of yeast infection and bacterial infection.
You can mix yogurt and honey and consume it once a day to get relief from vaginal itching. Or you can also apply it twice to your vagina to see quick results. Can lead to fungal outbreak
03 /6 Rinse with apple cider vinegar
It’s truly said that apple cider vinegar is no less than a magic potion. There is hardly anything that ACV can’t treat. The strong antibacterial and antifungal properties of ACV work wonders in relieving vaginal itching and burning. It balances the pH of the vagina and the skin. It also helps by balancing the vaginal flora.
You can drink a teaspoon of ACV with a glass of water or you can add half a cup to your bathing water. Do not use it in concentrated form as it can cause severe buring.
04 /6 Tea tree oil
The anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-viral properties of tea tree oil make it effective for treating vaginal burning and itching.
Take 2-3 drops of tea tree oil in your fingers and apply it to the outer skin of your vagina. This will help kill any yeast.
05 /6 Basil leaves
Basil is a popularly used herb, which contains eugenol that helps numb the nerve endings. It has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, which can help treat vaginal burning and itching.
Boil some basil leaves in water. Now let the water cool down and rinse your vagina with it 2-3 times a day.
06 /6 Cold compress
If you have too much itching, a cold compress can give you instant relief from it. A cold compress helps by numbing the itching sensation, thereby reducing swelling and inflammation.
Take a few ice cubes and wrap them in a clean cotton cloth. Place the ice pack on the affected area for a few minutes. You can repeat this 3-4 times a day.
When you feel the itch, irritation and pain of vaginal-area discomfort, your first thought is likely of a yeast infection. But other common disorders can cause similar discomfort.
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Ob/Gyn Oluwatosin Goje, MD, says some vulvar disorders are contagious and others are not. Either way, knowing the signs will help guide you in treating them. And if your problem is contagious, knowing this can help you avoid passing it along.
Here’s a rundown on five of the most common vulvar conditions:
Identifying it: The Candida albicans fungus causes an infection in roughly 75% of women at some point. Also known as a yeast infection, it causes vulvar swelling and redness, severe vaginal itching, burning, painful urination and painful sex. A white, thick, clumpy, odorless vaginal discharge accompanies the infection. But some patients don’t have a discharge and the majority of symptoms are on the vulvar.
Yeast infections are generally not contagious. However, in rare cases, they can be passed along in both heterosexual partners and same-sex partners. About 15% of male partners can be infected with yeast infections on their penis.
Treating it: “Various over-the-counter creams or an oral prescription medication can effectively clear up a yeast infection,” Dr. Goje says. If symptoms persist, reach out to your health care provider
2. Contact dermatitis
Identifying it: Allergens and other irritants such as laundry detergents, fabric softeners, body soaps, feminine health products and deodorized tampons can cause mild-to-severe vulvar itching, reddens, skin thickening and a raw feeling. Infections don’t usually occur, but you could feel dampness due to vulvar irritation and skin “weeping.”
You may also feel pain during sex and urination or during a vaginal exam. A physical exam and biopsy of vulvar wall cells can diagnose contact dermatitis.
Treating it: Take a short (10 or 15 minutes), lukewarm bath with or without four or five tablespoons of baking soda two or three times daily to help relieve itching and burning. For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe steroid treatment to reduce redness, swelling and itching.
To figure out what’s behind the problem, remove possible irritants one by one to see which one causes the reaction.
Identifying it: Genital herpes is a very common type of sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The most common symptoms of herpes are painful ulcers (also called lesions) that appear on the vulva and within the vagina and cervix. But it is possible to have HSV and have no symptoms. These small itchy ulcers, resembling small pimples or blisters, can spread to thighs and buttocks, crust over and scab. They take from two to four weeks to heal and, during initial outbreaks, flu-like symptoms appear.
Treating it: “Antiviral medications help to shorten the duration and intensity of outbreaks. They combat and/or reduce frequency of outbreaks of this sexually-transmitted disease, but there’s no cure,” Dr. Goje says. Consistent use of condoms have also been shown to reduce the risk of transmission to a non-infected partner.
4. Lichen Sclerosus
Identifying it: This uncommon skin condition occurs most often in post-menopausal women and causes shiny, smooth spots on the vulva. The patches can grow and skin can tear easily, leading to bright red or purple bruises. Sometimes scars develop, narrowing the vaginal opening and making sex painful or impossible.
Symptoms include itching, discomfort/pain, bleeding, and blisters, Dr. Goje says. The cause is unknown, but some doctors think overactive immune systems or hormonal problems are to blame. Lichen sclerosus is not contagious.
Doctors usually diagnose lichen sclerosus with a visual exam, but your doctor might biopsy a small piece of vulvar skin to rule out any other conditions.
Treating it: Very strong cortisone creams or skin ointments applied to existing patches daily for several weeks can alleviate itching. Continued treatment twice weekly can prevent patches from returning. Follow up regularly with your doctor because ointments can cause skin thinning, redness or yeast infections.
Identifying it: This common sexually transmitted infection is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. It is the most common curable sexually transmitted disease and can occur in anyone who engages in unprotected sex. It’s accompanied by vulvar swelling, redness, and itching, painful and frequent urination, and pain during sex. Vaginal discharge (foamy, white, gray, yellow or green with a foul odor) is also common. Cell cultures and physical exams can diagnose the infection.
Treating it: A single dose of antibiotics treats the infection for both you and your sexual partners. You and your partner should be treated to prevent reinfection
How to limit or avoid these disorders
There are steps you can take to limit or avoid vulvar infections and disorders, Dr. Goje says.
- Change out of wet clothes right away, wash off and keep the vulvar/vaginal area dry to reduce your chances of a yeast infection.
- Keep diabetes under control to reduce recurrence of yeast infection.
- To avoid herpes, don’t share sexual toys or have unprotected sex — vaginal, oral or anal — with someone who carries the virus. Always use condoms or other prophylactics.
“If you do contract one of these conditions, try not to scratch because it leads to further skin irritation and discomfort, and can further spread the infection,” Dr. Goje says.
“It’s always important to have your physician examine you if you have symptoms and can’t get relief,” she says. “And, when in doubt, have a biopsy.”
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Irritation of the vulva and vagina is quite common and most women will experience it at least once in their lives.
There is delicate skin around the groin, vulva and inside the vagina, making these areas vulnerable to a wide range of conditions that can cause irritation. (Vulva is the general name given to the external parts of the female genitals.)
What causes vulva and vagina irritation?
Many things can cause irritation including:
- an imbalance of the bacteria and microorganisms that normally live inside the vagina
- lubricants and spermicides and latex products used during sex, such as condoms
- Bartholin’s cysts
- hormonal changes, such as after having a baby or during menopause
- a skin condition such as dermatitis or eczema
- excess washing or vaginal douching (washing out the vagina)
- allergy or a reaction to hygiene products such as soaps, shower gels, shampoos, or hygiene sprays
- disinfectants, antiseptics and ointments
- washing powders or liquids
- perfumed toilet paper
- sanitary pads or tampons, condoms
- an ingrown hair
- some medications
- discharge from the vagina
- removing pubic hair
- swimming in a chlorine pool
- wearing new underwear, especially if it is not made of cotton
- very rarely, vulval cancer
Groin irritation can also be due to a build-up of sweat from not washing and drying your groin properly, or from over-washing or scrubbing the area.
What causes a vaginal infection?
As well as the causes listed above, irritation may also be a result of an infection.
Yeast infections: candidiasis or thrush is a common cause of itching, redness, swelling and a cottage cheese-like discharge.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that causes itchiness and a green, smelly discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection of the vagina. It causes a thin, grey discharge and a strong fishy smell.
Genital herpes is caused by a virus. It causes painful ulcers, a rash, flu-like symptoms and a discharge from the vagina.
If you have an unusual vaginal discharge, it might be due to an infection.
What causes groin infections?
Groin infections can be caused by a fungus. A fungal infection of the groin can often be irritating to the skin and may be very painful or itchy. Fungal infections may be passed on from person to person, but this is not always the case.
Fungi like moist, warm places to infect, such as folds of skin. To prevent fungal infections the area should be kept clean and dry. It is a good idea to avoid sharing towels, bedding or clothes.
How can I look after myself?
Groin or vaginal irritation
To soothe pain in the groin, try a cool compress or ice pack (a bag of frozen peas works well) wrapped in a cloth, not placed directly against the skin. Ice packs can be re-applied every 2 to 3 hours but do not leave them on the skin for more than 20 minutes at a time. If you are in pain, see a pharmacist or doctor for advice on medicines you can take.
Washing: Wash only with water or salt water and do not douche (wash inside the vagina). Avoid using perfumed soaps, shower gels or deodorants around the area, as this can cause further irritation.
Clothing: Wear loose fitting, cotton underpants and wash all underwear in unscented soap and rinse well. Avoid G-strings, pantyhose and tight jeans.
Creams: A pharmacist or doctor can advise on the best way to treat the irritation. There are several soothing creams and ointments available. Do not apply any creams or lotions you might already have without discussing your problem with a pharmacist first.
- Reduce swimming in chlorine, and remove swimwear immediately afterwards.
- Use 100% cotton pads or tampons. As menstrual blood may irritate the area, consider using tampons.
- Lean forward when urinating to avoid burning.
Groin or vaginal infection
Washing tips: Clean the area in warm (not hot) water at least twice a day. Pat dry carefully and then apply any cream you have been given by your doctor or pharmacist.
Avoid using perfumed soaps, shower gels or deodorants around the area, as this can cause further irritation. Do not douche. Keep the area dry and free from sweat to make it difficult for the fungus to survive.
Wash your hands before and after cleaning to prevent the spread of the infection. Also, do not share your face cloth or towel with others.
Creams: If you are using intravaginal creams or pessaries, you’ll need to use menstrual pads rather than tampons.
Clothing: Change underwear daily and wear loose-fitting pants.
Pain relief: If you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take.
If you have a sexually transmitted infection, tell your sexual partner(s) so they can also be examined and treated if necessary. Avoid any sexual contact with others until the infection has cleared.
If you are concerned about your vaginal irritation, please consult your doctor.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the sexual health and lower body Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
Vulvodynia is persistent, unexplained pain in the vulva (the skin surrounding the entrance to the vagina). It can affect women of all ages, and often occurs in women who are otherwise healthy. Vulvodynia can be distressing to live with. See your GP if you have persistent vulval pain.
Symptoms of vulvodynia
The main symptom of vulvodynia is persistent pain in and around the vulva. The vulva usually looks normal.
The pain may be:
- a burning, stinging or sore sensation
- triggered by touch, such as during sex or when inserting a tampon
- constantly in the background and can be worse when sitting
- limited to part of the vulva, such as the opening of the vagina
- more widespread – sometimes it can spread to the buttocks and inner thighs
Some women also have problems such as:
- vaginismus (where the muscles around the vagina tighten involuntarily)
- interstitial cystitis (a painful bladder condition)
- painful periods
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Having chronic pain can also:
- affect relationships
- reduce sex drive
- cause low mood and depression
Pain in the genital area is often difficult to talk about with friends and it’s not uncommon to feel isolated.
When to get medical advice
See your GP or visit your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic if you have persistent vulval pain.
Vulvodynia is unlikely to get better on its own and some of the treatments are only available on prescription. There are also a number of other causes of vulval pain that need to be ruled out.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may examine you or check for conditions such as infections.
Many people with vulval pain can have the condition for many years before a diagnosis is made and proper management started.
The British Society for the Study of Vulval Disease has a map of vulval clinics and services in the UK that you can use to search for services near you. You can’t self-refer to these services, but you could discuss a referral with your GP.
Treatments for vulvodynia
A combination of some of the following lifestyle changes and treatments can often help relieve symptoms of vulvodynia and reduce its impact on your life.
Lifestyle tips you can try to help reduce symptoms of vulvodynia include:
- wearing 100 per cent cotton underwear and loose-fitting skirts or trousers
- avoiding scented hygiene products such as feminine wipes, bubble bath and soap – an emollient is a good substitute for soap
- applying cool gel packs to your vulva to soothe the pain
- using petroleum jelly before swimming to provide protection from chlorine
- trying not to avoid sex or touching your vulva completely, as this may make your vulva more sensitive
- trying to reduce stress, as it can increase the pain of vulvodynia – read some relaxation tips to relieve stress
- for pain when sitting, try using a doughnut-shaped cushion
Potential treatments that can help reduce the symptoms of vulvodynia include:
- over-the-counter gels and lubricants
- prescription medication
- therapy and counselling
In very rare cases, surgery to remove part of the vulva may be an option. Pain, however, can recur and it’s usually not recommended. You should speak to your GP about the possibility of surgery.
Possible causes of vulvodynia
The exact cause of vulvodynia is unknown. It’s thought it may be the result of a problem with the nerves supplying the vulva, although it’s not clear what causes this.
Possible triggers that have been suggested include:
- damage due to previous surgery or childbirth
- trapped nerves
- a history of severe vaginal thrush
Vulvodynia isn’t contagious. It has nothing to do with personal hygiene and isn’t a sign of cancer.
Other causes of vulval pain
Pain in the vulva isn’t always vulvodynia. It can have a number of other causes, such as:
- persistent vaginal thrush or other vaginal infections
- sensitivity to something touching the vulva, such as soap, bubble bath or medicated creams (known as irritant contact dermatitis)
- a drop in the hormone oestrogen causing dryness of the vulva, particularly during the menopause
- a recurrent herpes infection
- lichen sclerosus or lichen planus (skin conditions that can cause intense irritation and soreness of the vulva)
- in rare cases, Behcet’s disease or Sjögren’s syndrome
Your doctor may want to rule out these conditions before treating you for vulvodynia. Some women can have a combination of problems, for example, recurrent thrush and vulvodynia, with both needing proper treatment to reduce pain.
Support and more information
Living with a long-term painful condition such as vulvodynia can be frustrating and stressful. You may find it useful to contact a support group for more information and advice or to get in touch with other women who have vulvodynia.
Two of the main support groups are:
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.
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This condition involves pain in the area around the opening of the vagina.
Vulvodynia is persistent pain of the vulva. The vulva is the area around the opening of the vagina. It includes the opening of the vagina, the pubic mound, the inner and outer labia (vaginal lips), and the clitoris.
The term typically is used to describe chronic pain of the vulva that lasts for at least three months (1) and has no identifiable cause (such as a cut or infection).
Signs and Symptoms of Vulvodynia
Vulvar pain can feel different to different people.
Signs and symptoms of vulvodynia may include: (1)
- Burning or stinging pain
- Stabbing or throbbing pain
- Vulvar or vaginal itching
- Soreness or rawness (feeling like something rough is rubbing on the area)
- Painful intercourse
- Painful tampon insertion (2)
Some women have pain in a specific area of the vulva, such as the clitoris or the vaginal opening. Others experience pain all over the vulva.
Symptoms may be constant, or they may come and go, such as when the area is touched, during exercise, or after urinating. (1)
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Causes and Risk Factors of Vulvodynia
It’s not clear what causes vulvodynia.
Researchers think that one or more of the following may cause or contribute to vulvodynia:
- Damage to or irritation of the nerves that transmit pain signals from the vulva to the brain (3)
- Having a greater than usual number of pain-sensing nerve fibers in the vulva (3)
- Chronic inflammation of the vulva (3)
- Genetics (some people may be prone to chronic vulvar pain) (3)
- Hypersensitivity to yeast or other infection-causing organisms in the vagina (3)
- Pelvic floor spasms or weakness (3)
- Conditions that could affect pelvic muscles and bones (1)
Endometriosis and Severe Sex Pain: How to Cope
How Is Vulvodynia Diagnosed?
Your gynecologist or other healthcare provider will ask you questions about your symptoms and carefully examine the vulva and vagina. (1)
Your doctor may try to rule out common causes of vulvar pain, such as infection, by checking a sample of vaginal fluid or discharge. (1)
Your gynecologist may apply gentle pressure to different parts of the vulva with a cotton swab and ask you to rate the severity of your pain. (4)
He or she may also take a small sample of tissue from the vulvar skin to look at under a microscope. (1) This is called a biopsy.
Prognosis of Vulvodynia
Vulvodynia is a complex condition. No single treatment works for everyone. You may need to try multiple treatments before finding one — or a combination — that helps to alleviate pain. It may take a few months before you start to experience relief. (1)
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Duration of Vulvodynia
By definition, vulvodynia is chronic pain of the vulva that lasts for three months or longer. The pain may be constant for some women. For others, it may come and go. (1)
Treatment and Medication Options for Vulvodynia
No one treatment works for everyone. If you are experiencing vulvar pain, talk to your doctor about what treatments might work best for you.
- Topical numbing ointments, such as lidocaine (5)
- Hormonal creams, such as estrogen or testosterone (6)
- Oral medications to help block pain signals to the brain, including: tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, certain anticonvulsants, opioid pain relievers (6)
- Injectable nerve blocks with steroids or anesthetics (5)
Other Treatment Options
Your provider may refer you to a pain specialist. A pain specialist may use a technique called biofeedback, which relieves pain with electrical stimulation. (1,7)
Physical therapy or pelvic floor therapy to help address pelvic floor dysfunction may help to relieve vulvodynia in some women. (6)
Surgery may be an option for people with some types of vulvar pain. During the surgery, your doctor will remove tissue from the painful area of the vulva. Surgery isn’t recommended for most people with vulvodynia. (5)
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
There are a number of steps you can take at home to help ease vaginal or vulvar pain. If you have vulvodynia, avoiding products that may be irritating to the area may help to reduce or relieve symptoms. (1)
- Avoid tight-fitting underwear, pantyhose, and pants (1)
- Wear 100 percent cotton underwear (1)
- Do not wear underwear while sleeping (1)
- Don’t douche (1)
- Clean the vulva with water only (avoid vaginal wipes, deodorants, bubble baths, and scented soaps) (1)
- Use lubrication during sex (but avoid lubricants with flavor or those that produce a warming/cooling sensation) (1)
- Apply cool packs to the vulvar area to reduce pain and itching (1)
- Avoid scented pads or tampons (8)
- Avoid exercises or activities that put pressure directly on the vulva, such as bicycling and horseback riding (1)
- Take 5- to 10-minute sitz baths in warm water, then moisturize the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly (1)
In addition to home remedies, some studies suggest that low-risk modalities such as yoga and acupuncture may be helpful in reducing pain from vulvodynia. While there may not be a lot of evidence to show effectiveness, it may be worth discussing with your doctor whether these techniques make sense for you. (8)
There are several factors that can contribute to vaginal itching and burning. Read on to know more about the effective home remedies, which can treat the condition.
Probiotics are packed full of healthy bacteria infections that cause itching and irritation. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Suffering from vaginal itching, dryness and burning are among the most common conditions faced by women, at least once in their lifetime. These problems are not always a sign of serious condition. These problems can be due to bacterial or yeast infections, eczema, or using harsh soaps and body washes that irritate the delicate skin around the vulva.
Apart from itching and burning in the vagina, there may be redness and swelling in and around the vaginal area, which can become an uncomfortable and painful condition for you. To stop vaginal itching and burning, you need to maintain proper hygiene. However, you can try certain home remedies to get relief from the symptoms.
Here are five home remedies you can try:
1. Yogurt and honey
Yogurt is a probiotic, which can easily treat your vaginal itching and burning. This combination can help in two ways: first, the soothing effect of yogurt and anti-inflammatory properties of honey can help to get rid of irritation and second, due to its probiotic compounds, it can correct the imbalance in bacteria, reducing your risk of yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.
Method to use: You can either decide to drink yogurt or get instant relief from vaginal itching by applying yogurt with honey directly to your vagina. Apply this twice a day to see quick results.
Yogurt can soothe your vagina. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
2. Rinse with apple cider vinegar (ACV)
There is hardly anything that ACV can’t treat. ACV has strong antibacterial and antifungal properties that are good at relieving vaginal itching and burning. It helps in balancing the pH of the vagina and the skin. Therefore, it can easily restore balance in the vaginal flora.
Method to use: You can either drink a spoonful of ACV with a glass of lukewarm water or add a half cup of ACV to your bath water and then wash your vaginal area regularly with it to treat the infection.
3. Tea tree oil
Some essential oils are also really effective in treating vagina issues; tea tree oil is one of them. Its anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-viral properties can be effective in treating vaginal itching and burning.
Method to use: Take 2-3 drops of oil in your hand and apply it on the outer skin of the vagina. This will kill the yeast present in your vagina.
Tea tree oil is the answer for vaginal itching and burning. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
4. Basil leaves
Basil, the popular herb, contains a substance called eugenol, which numbs the nerve endings that cause itching. It has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can treat vaginal itching and burning.
Method to use: Get fresh basil leaves and boil them in water, pour the liquid into the bowl and allow it to cool down. Now rinse your vagina using the mixture. You can do this 2-3 times a day.
5. Baking soda
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, forms an alkaline solution when dissolved in water. It creates a non conducive environment for the fungus to multiply. This makes it a great remedy to soothe and relieve itching, burning and swelling.
Method to use: Add ¼ cup of baking soda to your bath, and allow it to dissolve. Soak yourself in the water for around 15-20 minutes.
Baking soda can help deal with a vaginal infection. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
6. Cold compress
If the itching is beyond control, a cold compress can give you fast relief from this and the burning sensation in and around your vaginal area. That’s because the cold compress numbs the itching sensation, thereby reducing swelling and inflammation.
Method to use: Put a few ice cubes in a bag and wrap them with a clean cloth. Place the ice pack on your vagina for a few minutes. Repeat this 2-3 times a day to get rid of vaginal burning and itching
Ladies, these home remedies can help to cure your vaginal issues, but keep in mind that intimate hygiene is equally important.
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Vulvovaginitis in girls before puberty
Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of the vulva and vagina. It is common in young girls. Parents often become aware of it when their child complains about redness and soreness of the skin around their genital area.
- Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of the vulva and vagina.
- It causes itching, redness and soreness.
- It is most common in girls between the ages of 3 and 10.
- Childhood vulvovaginitis will always improve at puberty if not before. It is a different condition from vulvovaginitis in adult women.
- Most often, it can be treated at home through removing any irritants and teaching your child good hygiene practices.
Why is vulvovaginitis common in girls before puberty?
Before puberty, girls are prone to vulvovaginitis because their vagina and vulva are thin and less resistant to infection. Their vagina is not as acidic as it becomes after puberty, so bacteria can easily grow and cause infection.
Also, young girls are still learning how to toilet themselves. The may not wipe their bottom correctly or thoroughly enough. Bacteria from the bottom can irritate the sensitive genital area.
What causes vulvovaginitis?
Most commonly, vulvovaginitis is caused when the skin becomes irritated. This may be caused by:
- urine (wee) or faeces (poo) that is not wiped away after toileting
- soaps or bubble baths
- tight-fitting clothing
- scratchy toilet paper.
Unlike adult women, in girls who have not reached puberty, symptoms are not often caused by thrush (candida).
Itching that is worse at nighttime and mostly around the anus may be a sign of threadworms.
How is vulvovaginitis in girls treated?
Treatment of vulvovaginitis depends on the cause. For young girls, this normally involves identifying and avoiding the irritant causing it and teaching your child how to keep their genital area clean. The following tips may help:
- Teach your child to use a front to back motion when wiping.
- Change underpants daily or more frequently if soiled.
- Wear loose-fitting comfortable underwear and outer clothing.
- Avoid tight-fitting nylon clothing such as leotards and pants that restrict airflow and promote sweating. Cotton underwear is best.
- Avoid using bubble baths and harsh soaps; try a soap-free cleanser instead of conventional soap.
- Daily soap-free baths can be soothing and will improve hygiene.
- Encourage your child to gently use her fingers to separate the folds of her vulva to clean them.
- Teach her to pat dry the vulva with a clean towel after bathing rather than rubbing vigorously.
- Bland emollients creams can be used to help soothe irritation.
Sore Bottoms In Young Girls
Some parents worry that a sore red bottom may be caused by sexual abuse. Although that is a possibility, it is not the usual reason and there are lots of other things that are much more likely causes of a sore red bottom.
Key points to remember about sore bottoms in young girls
- a condition called vulvovaginitis is one of the main causes of sore red bottoms in young girls
- vulvovaginitis is redness and itchiness of the vagina and surrounding area
- mild vulvovaginitis is a very common problem in young girls
- mostly it will get better without treatment
- see your family doctor if the symptoms don’t go away
See external links and downloads below for information about how to prevent and treat vulvovaginitis.
What can cause sore red bottoms?
Sore red bottoms can happen for lots of reasons. For example, a child might:
- have sensitive skin
- have problems with hard poos or wetting themselves
- be on some pills that are causing it
- have an infection
- have pinworms
There might also be another reason for a sore red bottom.
These children can have pain, itching or burning around their vulva, or bleeding from their vagina. They can also have pain when they wee or they can have discharge (mucus from their vagina) that can smell a bit bad.
How do I get rid of my daughter’s sore red bottom?
Mostly it will get better if you do the following but sometimes your child might need medicine.
There are some other hints in the external links below.
- do not wash the area too much
- do not use soap or shampoo in the area – just water is fine
- wear loose cotton underwear and no underwear at night
- do not use perfumed washing powder or fabric softener on underwear
- wipe the bottom from front to back after doing poos
- encourage your child to wee when they need to and not to ‘hang on’
- rinse the vulva with water after weeing
- use soft, unscented toilet paper
- pat or air dry the area after washing, do not rub
- for babies, change nappies frequently
The content on this page has been developed and approved by the Clinical Network for Child Protection, Paediatric Society New Zealand.
Vulvitis is an inflammation of the vulva. This is the soft folds of skin outside the vagina. It’s a symptom that can result from an array of diseases. This can include infections, injuries, allergies, or irritants. Because it can be challenging to find the exact cause, diagnosing and treating this condition can be difficult.
What causes vulvitis?
Vulvitis may be caused by one or more of the following:
- Toilet paper with perfume or dye
- Soaps or bubble baths with perfume
- Shampoos and hair conditioners
- Laundry detergents
- Vaginal sprays, deodorants, and powders
- Hot tub and swimming pool water
- Underwear made of synthetic material without a cotton crotch
- Rubbing against a bike seat
- Wearing a wet bathing suit for a long period
- Riding a horse
- Infections such as pubic lice or mites (scabies)
Who is at risk for vulvitis?
Any woman with certain allergies, sensitivities, infections, or diseases can develop vulvitis. Women may develop it before puberty and after menopause. This may be due to a drop in estrogen.
What are the symptoms of vulvitis?
Each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Redness and swelling on the labia and other parts of the vulva
- Intense itching
- Clear, fluid-filled blisters
- Sore, scaly, thick, or white patches on the vulva
The symptoms of vulvitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is vulvitis diagnosed?
Along with a complete medical history and physical and pelvic exam, other tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Pap test. This test involves microscopic exam of cells collected from the cervix. It’s used to detect changes that may be cancer or may lead to cancer. It also shows other conditions, such as infection or inflammation.
How is vulvitis treated?
Specific treatment for vulvitis will be discussed with your healthcare provider based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Cause of the disease
- Type and severity of the symptoms
- Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- Self-help measures (for example, avoiding irritants)
- Sitz baths with soothing compounds (to help control the itching)
- Cortisone creams
- Estrogen cream
Vulvitis is inflammation of the vulva. It is not a condition, but a symptom with many possible causes. Any woman with certain allergies, sensitivities, infections, or diseases can develop it.
- Symptoms may include:
- Redness and swelling on the labia and other parts of the vulva
- Intense itching
- Clear, fluid-filled blisters
- Sore, scaly, thick, or white patches on the vulva
- Treatment may include:
- Self-help measures
- Sitz baths with soothing compounds
- Cortisone creams
- Estrogen cream
I have pain down below, what can I do?
Vulvodynia is defined as pain or discomfort of the vulva that lasts longer than three months. The vulva is the external genital area of a female. About 16% of women in the United States have vulvodynia. It affects ethnic and racial groups equally. Some women with vulvodynia will experience pain in one area of the vulva while others will experience pain in the entire area.
The types of pain women experience range from mild aching, soreness, and throbbing to more intense pain including burning, stinging, and a feeling of constant, severe irritation. These symptoms may come and go or remain constant. They can start without warning; however, symptoms usually develop after specific activities like intercourse, gynecological exams, insertion of a tampon, tight fitting pants, or sitting for long periods of time.
Sometimes vulvar pain is due to an infection, skin disorder or other medical disease. Pain from these conditions is not considered vulvodynia. The cause of vulvodynia is not known. Some believe the pain develops due to an injury or irritation of the pudendal nerve, a woman’s genetic predisposition, an overactive response to an direct injury, or weakness and spasms of the muscles in the pelvic floor.
If a woman develops vulvar pain, sh e should see a medical professional who specializes in women’s health. The medical provider will complete a thorough examination to rule out infection or other skin conditions that may be causing the vulvar pain. They may also perform a cotton swab test in which they touch various parts of the vulva to determine the exact location and severity of the pain. Finally, a skin biopsy may be done if there is an area of skin that appears abnormal.
Once vulvodynia has been diagnosed, there are several treatment options. Treatment options focus on relieving pain symptoms and avoiding activities or events that cause pain. Not every treatment will work the same for every patient. In fact, some women will require more than one treatment to control the pain. Women are highly encouraged to keep a pain diary because diaries can help track symptoms, identify activities or events that make the pain worse, and follow responses to treatment.
Treatments for vulvodynia include:
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy helps relax and relieve tension of the pelvic floor muscles. Physical therapy can also improve pelvic floor muscle strength. Improved strength and relaxed muscles can significantly reduce vulvar pain.
- Local anesthetics: A cream or gel, often containing lidocaine, can be applied to the vulva for short-term relief of symptoms. Many women apply the cream or gel before aggravating events, such as intercourse, because the cream can prevent or reduce pain that frequently occurs with these types of activities.
- Hormone cream: Estrogen cream can improve irritation of vulvar skin and may be used in some instances.
- Antidepressants/Antiseizure Medications: These types of medications have been shown to reduce and improve overall vulvar pain. These medications are used to control a woman’s symptoms long-term; however, it is important to remember that it may take several weeks before patients start seeing an improvement in their symptoms.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/Sex Therapy: Because vulvar pain can affect sexual relationships and a woman’s emotional state, counseling with a licensed professional therapist can greatly improve overall symptoms associated with vulvodynia and can help maintain healthy physical and emotional relationships.
In addition to these medical treatment options, women can also help reduce their pain by following these simple suggestions at home:
- Wear 100% cotton underwear to improve airflow to the external genital area. Chronic moisture and reduced airflow can cause significant vulvar irritation and discomfort.
- Do not wear underwear to bed. This allows maximum airflow to the vulva.
- Avoid douching. Douching can remove “good” vaginal flora. This can cause irritation and burning, which leads to worsening vulvar pain.
- Clean the vulva with water only. There is no need to scrub or use harsh, heavily perfumed soaps to clean this area.
- Limit pad use. Pads can be very irritating to the vulvar tissue.
- If pads are needed, use 100% cotton pads that are free of perfumes.
- Certain ointments or creams may be applied to the vulva to reduce rubbing from underwear and pads. These ointments include Aquaphor, Vaseline, Desitin, or non-flavored Crisco.
- Pat the vulva dry after voiding. Avoid hard, repeated wiping.
- Use lubricants before sex. However, do not use lubricants that are scented or that cause heating/cooling sensations.
- Apply cool packs to vulva as needed
Ongoing and regular medical care is very important in helping control vulvodynia symptoms long-term and in preventing symptoms from worsening. If you are experiencing any type of vulvar pain or discomfort, call The Woman’s Center for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction to schedule an appointment for evaluation and discussion of individualized treatment options.
National Vulvodynia Association, 2019
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017
Common causes of vaginal irritation and home remedies that OB/GYN doctors recommend
Vaginal itching affects nearly every woman at some point, and while for some it’s simply an uncomfortable nuisance, for others it signals a more serious underlying health issue. In most cases, however, alleviating vaginal itching is as simple as identifying and treating the cause.
Vaginal itching, burning and discharge can be caused by many different aggravating factors such as irritating substances, infections, skin disorders, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or even menopause. If your OB/GYN doctor find that your vaginal itching is a result of one of the following common causes, there is most likely an easy treatment or fix.
Skin conditions like psoriasis can also affect the vagina and vulva, but since this fact isn’t well-known, women may be aware of their skin condition but never make the connection to their vaginal itching.
Vaginal Itching Due To Chemical Irritants
Like itching in other areas, vaginal itching is often the result of exposure to an irritant. In this case, any soap or chemical product you use on your vagina or vulva — or on clothing that touches the area — can cause irritation.
Sometimes the culprit is something obvious, like a new lubricant or spermicide. Other times the itching is actually the result of the detergent or fabric softener used on clothing. Even a douche, which is actually used to cleanse the vagina, can cause irritation for some women. This is one of the many reasons why you should avoid douching.
If your vaginal itching is a fairly new development, look at any products you’ve started using recently. Have you switched to a new brand of contraceptive foam or spermicidal condom? Are you using a different brand of detergent or fabric softener in your laundry? If so, the newly introduced chemical may be the culprit.
When your vaginal itching is persistent over a long period of time, irritants may still be to blame. If itching is your only symptom, try changing the products you use for contraception, cleansing and laundry.
For lubricant, consider trying a fragrance-free, water-based lubricant or coconut oil (if you aren’t using condoms). Use polyisoprene (latex-free) condoms to see if you have a latex allergy.
Sometimes the chemicals found in soap can cause vaginal irritation as well. Buy fragrance-free soap without perfume and only use it on the outside of the vulva. The interior of your vagina is self-cleaning and using soap or douching may disrupt its natural, healthy bacteria balance.
Also avoid vaginal wipes or deodorants.
Be sure to only change one product at a time so that you can correctly identify the cause of the issue.
Vaginal Itching as a Symptom of an Underlying Issue
When vaginal itching isn’t the result of an irritant or dryness, there may be another underlying cause that needs to be identified and treated.
Yeast Infections: Yeast infections are commonplace for many women, as evidenced by easy access to over-the-counter medication. Itching is a primary symptom of yeast infections, which can usually be treated quite effectively by your OB/GYN doctor once properly diagnosed.
Sexually Transmitted Illnesses: Nearly all sexually transmitted illnesses can cause vaginal itching. This includes chlamydia, gonorrhea and genital herpes, as well as cases of human papillomavirus (HPV) that present with other symptoms like vaginal warts (symptoms are not always present with HPV).
If your vaginal itching is a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection, most often treating the illness can help with the itching. The approach, however, depends on the illness itself. Chlamydia, for example, can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics. Herpes on the other hand is a chronic illness, so treatment usually focuses on alleviating symptoms.
Bacterial Vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis is a fairly common condition in which the natural bacteria in the vagina can begin to over-produce, resulting in itching and vaginal discharge.
Many women become concerned by the somewhat troubling symptoms of bacterial vaginosis. In most cases though, antibiotics and other medications will return the vagina’s bacteria balance to normal. Bacterial vaginosis may also subside naturally.
To prevent bacterial vaginosis, consider taking a Pro-B Probiotic supplement, which has been clinically shown to help balance yeast and bacteria in the body.
Itching Caused by Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness can result in many cases of itching, both external and internal. Hormonal shifts during menopause, as well as douching and certain medications, can dry up vaginal mucus. That dryness can result in itching and other uncomfortable symptoms.
In cases where vaginal dryness results from menopause or other hormone-related issues, estrogen — in the form of a cream, tablet or inserted ring — is the most common treatment. Most women find these approaches very effective in alleviating dryness and itching. If you believe you are experiencing vaginal itching caused by hormones, see our article on vaginal atrophy.
For those whose dryness and itching comes from an external source or lifestyle factors, your doctor may recommend you stop douching or, if possible, change medications. Dabbing a little bit of vaseline petroleum jelly, coconut oil or even Crisco vegetable shortening on the dry skin area can also help heal itching.
Other Causes of Vaginal Itching
Some less common causes of vaginal itching include pre-cancerous cells and a parasitic infection called “pinworms.” Skin conditions like psoriasis can also affect the vagina and vulva, but since this fact isn’t well-known, women may be aware of their skin condition but never make the connection to their vaginal itching.
When to Contact Your OB/GYN Doctor
If your vaginal itching is persistent and you can’t connect it to any of the potential irritants listed here, you should schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to make sure you aren’t dealing with something more serious.
Most importantly, you should never self-diagnose.
Many women assume their vaginal irritation is the result of a yeast infection and buy over-the-counter medications without getting a proper diagnosis. While there’s no evidence that this approach will cause you any harm, it also won’t help alleviate your itching, and may delay diagnosis of a more serious health issue.
Your best bet when experiencing vaginal itching, especially when it is accompanied by other symptoms like discharge or warts, is to contact your OB/GYN or well woman care physician.
If you’re in Gainesville, Lake City or surrounding areas of northern Florida, we invite you to contact our highly experienced, compassionate team of well woman care physicians & nurses at All About Women to schedule an appointment today.
Vaginal infections are extremely common. Approximately 50-75% of women will have thrush at some point and 10-30% will have bacterial vaginosis. This section will deal only with these two infections. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and trichomonas are dealt with in the section called STI screening.
This is a very common cause of vaginal infection. It is caused by a fungus species called candida. The most common type of candida infection is known as candida albicans. Almost all women have candida albicans growing harmlessly on and in their body. When the balance of the vagina is disrupted for a variety of reasons the fungus overgrows, causing symptoms known as thrush.
Well recognised causes of thrush include:
- Antibiotic use
- Wearing tight underwear
- Taking the contraceptive pill
Symptoms of thrush include vaginal and vulval soreness, itch and discharge. Sometimes only one of these symptoms may be present. Often the patient diagnoses thrush herself and some treatments are available in the pharmacy without needing a prescription.
However if the symptoms do not improve within two weeks or they recur your doctor usually prescribes vaginal or oral treatment. The male partner should also receive treatment if they are symptomatic. Your GP will arrange for you to have a swab taken to check for other infections and to make sure that it’s definitely thrush.
If treatment is used properly, the infection clears up completely in 8 out of 10 women. However, some women find that thrush keeps recurring. If you have more than four episodes of thrush in a year, this is known as recurrent thrush and you will need to approach the problem in a different way. More long-term measures may be required to try to eliminate the problem of recurrent thrush, such as diet modification, changes in clothing type and a new approach to personal hygiene. Ironically excessive washing of the vaginal area is associated with recurrent thrush. Infection that keeps coming back can be very upsetting and some women find that it affects their sex life and how they feel about themselves. Talk to your GP if you are concerned.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women of child bearing age. It happens when the balance of the vagina is disrupted. A large overgrowth of a bacteria called gardnerella vaginalis occurs which produces the symptoms. Occassionally BV infection is detected in swabs taken from women who have no symptoms. Usually women complain of a thin, grey or green discharge with an unpleasant fishy smell. There can be associated vaginal soreness and irritation, particularly after sex.
If left untreated there is an association between BV and miscarriage. It is treated with a course of metronidazole (flagyl). After this treatment about three out of four women will be cured of the infection. However, some women find that the vaginosis comes back. If this happens to you, you are likely to be prescribed more metronidazole. Alternatively a vaginal preparation designed to lower the Ph of the vagina and therefore restore a healthy balance can be used. These include Relactagel and Aci-Jel. They have been shown to be less effective than antibiotics in treating BV but will still treat BV in approximately 50% of cases successfully. Male partners do not need to be treated.
If your infection keeps coming back, it is important not to use any perfumed bath products, shampoos or antiseptics as these can irritate your skin. Do not use vaginal douching. Douching means washing out your vagina – usually with water or a special douching liquid – to clean it and prevent infection. However, douching actually has the opposite effect. It destroys the healthy bacteria in your vagina and leaves you more open to infection.
Is there anything I can do to feel more comfortable?
There are a number of things you can do to help ease your symptoms while you are having treatment. These include wearing the right clothes and underwear, not using perfumed bath and shower products and taking painkillers.
Some vaginal infections cause symptoms which can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. As well as following any treatment you have been given, there are several things you can do which may help you to feel more comfortable. Some of the main ones are listed below:
- Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothes rather than tight clothes such as jeans, or synthetic materials such as nylon underwear or tights.
- Use plain water to wash rather than perfumed soaps, bath or shower products, antiseptics or vaginal deodorants as these can irritate your skin and the sensitive area of your vulva. Don’t scrub with a flannel or sponge. Wash your hair over a sink rather than in the shower or bath so that the shampoo doesn’t come into contact with your vulva.
- If you are itching, try applying aloe vera juice or gel around your vagina. Cold water or ice cubes wrapped in a cloth can also soothe itching. You shouldn’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can damage your skin.
- If you have sex, you may need to use a lubricant during intercourse. Be aware that some treatments for vaginal infections can affect the latex in condoms, caps and diaphragms which can make them unsafe for contraception. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Most vaginal itching or discomfort is due to a chemical irritation of the vulva or outer vagina. The usual irritants are bubble bath, shampoo, or soap left on the genital area. Occasionally, it is due to poor hygiene. This irritation almost always occurs before puberty. At that age, the lining of the vulva is very thin and sensitive. If the vagina becomes infected, there will be a vaginal discharge. The common features of vaginitis are:
- Pain, soreness, burning, or itching in genital area
- Pain or burning with urination
- Uses bubble bath, bathes in soapy water, or washes genitals with soap
- Prepubertal girl
Baking Soda – Warm Water Soaks. Have your daughter soak her bottom in a basin or bathtub of warm water with baking soda for 20 minutes. Add 4-8 tablespoon of baking soda per tub of warm water. Be sure she spreads her legs and allows the water to cleanse the genital area. No soap should be used. Repeat this every 4 hours while your daughter is awake for the next 2 days. After symptoms resolve, cleanse the genital area once a day with warm water.
Hydrocortisone Cream. Apply 1% of hydrocortisone cream (a nonprescription item) to the genital
area after soaks.
Prevention of Recurrences.
- Don’t use bubble bath before puberty because it’s extremely irritating. Don’t put any other soaps or shampoo into the bath water. Don’t let a bar of soap float in the bathtub. Wash the genital area with plain water, not soap. If necessary, use baby oil to remove secretions from between the labia. If you are going to shampoo your child’s hair, do this at the end of the bath. use a squirt bottle with warm tap water to rinse between her legs after shampooing.
- Keep bath time less than 15 minutes. Have your child urinate immediately after baths.
- Have your child wear cotton underpants. Underpants made of synthetic fibers don’t allow the skin to “breathe.” Discourage wearing underpants during the night so the genital area has a chance to “air out.”
- Teach your daughter to wipe herself correctly from front to back, especially after a bowel movement.
- Encourage her to drink enough fluids each day to keep the urine light-colored. Concentrated urine can be an irritant.
Call our office during regular hours if . . .
- The itching is not gone after 48 hours of treatment.
- A vaginal discharge or bleeding occurs.
- Passing urine becomes increasingly painful.
- Your child develops a fever or vomiting.
- You have other concerns or questions.
Ready to make an appointment?
Call our Central Appointment Line at (651) 256-6714 or check our contact page for our business office number or other numbers
Associate professor, University of Technology Sydney
Melissa Kang does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Technology Sydney provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.
I Need to Know is an ongoing series for teens in search of reliable, confidential advice about life’s tricky questions.
Hi! I only recently have gotten a boyfriend and have started having regular sex. After 2 or more days, it starts to get a bit sore down there. Is that normal? I just assumed it was pain from friction, but I don’t know if that’s right and I’ve never sought help because it’s a bit embarrassing!
Sandra, 17, in Sydney
- Sex should never hurt
- if it does, tell the person to stop
- get checked out by a GP or sexual health clinic to make sure it’s not something that needs to be treated – better safe than sorry.
Hi, and thanks for your question! You’re not alone in finding that sex isn’t always straightforward. By sex, I assume you mean intercourse. What I’m not sure about is where you mean by “down there”. In a woman’s body, down there is lots of places!
To start with, sex shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, a good tip is to say “stop”, no matter what! The aftermath of sex also shouldn’t hurt – whether it’s two minutes, two hours or two days later.
Even very vigorous intercourse where there’s lots of friction should not actually hurt. It can happen if there’s not enough natural (or artificial) lubrication or if there’s some muscle tension in the vagina. Both of these can be signs of not being fully aroused (turned on) beforehand or during sex, or being a bit anxious about having sex.
A new partner or relationship can bring some anxiety for each person. It can affect the way a woman’s body (or a man’s) gets aroused and how comfortable sex feels. Good communication with your partner about what feels good is really helpful.
If you have background worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy, that can definitely affect enjoyment of sex. Getting armed with knowledge and equipment to prevent any unwanted consequences of sex should be a routine part of getting into a relationship for both parties.
The cause of your pain also depends on where it is – is it at the opening of the vagina, or other parts of the vulva? Is it related to peeing, and is it always in the same place?
Inflammation (redness and soreness) can cause pain – this could be from inside the vagina such as with a thrush infection (which is not sexually transmitted) or from the skin in the vulva (which could be from dermatitis or a skin condition).
Some STIs cause pain in the genital area, for example herpes (caused by the cold sore virus), but you would be likely to notice the sores as well. A common STI such as chlamydia often has no symptoms, but could cause pain higher up in the pelvic area or when you wee. A condition known as vulvodynia causes chronic pain, not just from having sex – it can also be triggered by the conditions mentioned above.
You deserve to be enjoying a happy and healthy sex life, and not feeling embarrassed about one of the most natural experiences in the world – even if it’s not always going right. It’s important you do get personal advice, since this could be something that needs treatment. It would be good to have a doctor or sexual health clinic check up, and this can all be done completely confidentially.
The goal is to promote healthy vulvar skin. You can do this if you reduce or get rid of:
We suggest these products and actions because of their past success in helping to lessen or relieve vulvar/vaginal burning, irritation, or itching.
- Use the detergent brand All Free Clear™ on all laundry that goes into your washer:
- Use it for each load.
- Do not substitute.
- Use 1/3 to 1/2 of the suggested amount of detergent per load.
- Use the smallest amount of detergent with a high efficiency washer.
- Rinse your clothes 2 times.
- Do not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
- You may use dryer balls.
- Do not use wool dryer balls.
- Hand wash your underwear if you use a shared washer or dryer (such as a laundromat, apartment, or dorm).
- Line dry your underwear.
Stain removal products and bleach
- If you have used a stain removal product:
- Soak and rinse in clear water all underwear and towels on which you have used it.
- Then wash in your regular washing cycle using All Free Clear™.
- This removes as much of the product as you can.
- Wear white, all cotton underwear. Cotton lets air in and moisture out.
- Do not wear nylon underwear with a cotton crotch.
- Do not wear thongs.
- Do not wear underwear when sleeping at night.
- Wear loose fitting cotton boxers or cotton pajama bottoms are fine.
- Do not wear pantyhose.
- If you must wear pantyhose:
- Cut out the diamond crotch.
- Leave about 1/4 inch of fabric from the seam to keep it from running.
- Wear thigh high hose.
- Do not wear tight clothing.
- Do not wear clothing made of synthetic fabrics.
- Take off wet clothing as soon as you can.
- Do not use bath soaps, lotions, or gels that have perfumes.
- Even products marked “gentle” or “mild” can have perfumes.
- You and all sexual partners should use these soaps:
- Dove for Sensitive Skin™
- Do not use soap directly on the vulvar skin.
- Use warm water.
- Do not use bubble bath, bath salts, and scented oils.
- You may use an unscented oil or lotion on skin after bathing.
- Do not put lotion on your vulva.
- Do not scrub vulvar skin with a washcloth.
- Pat dry.
- You may use a hair dryer on a cool setting.
Baking soda soaks
- Do not soak in hot water.
- Use 4 to 5 tablespoons of baking soda for itching and burning.
- Soak 1 to 3 times a day for 10 minutes.
- Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking soda if you are using a sitz bath.
- Use white, unscented toilet paper such as:
- Angel Soft
- 7th Generation
- Do not use toilet paper with aloe.
- Do not use “ultra-soft” or “ultra-strong” toilet paper.
- Do not douche.
- Do not shave or use hair removal products:
- You may use scissors to trim the pubic hair.
- You may have laser hair removal.
Personal product hygiene
- Do not use hygiene sprays, perfumes, adult, or baby wipes.
- You may use Tucks (witch hazel) hemorrhoid pads.
- You can use WaterWipes™.
- You may pour lukewarm water over the vulva while you pee for burning.
- Do not use deodorized pads and tampons.
- You may use tampons when your blood flow is able to soak 1 tampon in 4 hours or less.
- They may cause vaginal infections, more discharge, odor, or rarely, toxic shock syndrome if worn too long or when blood flow is too light.
- Use pads that have a cotton liner that touches your skin.
- Do not use pads with a nylon mesh weave.
- Nylon traps moisture.
- We suggest using:
- 7th Generation™
- For urine leakage, use a pad designed to collect urine.
- Do not use pads with a nylon mesh weave.
Ointments and creams
- Do not use over-the-counter creams or ointments until you ask your health care team.
- Use ointments that are paraben-free and fragrance-free.
- You may use a skin protectant on your vulva as often as you need. We suggest that you use a thin layer of:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Coconut oil
- Zinc oxide ointment
- White petrolatum (Vaseline™)
- It also helps to lower skin irritation during your period and when you pee.
For people who have problems with chronic dampness:
- Do not wear pads daily.
- Choose cotton fabrics when you can.
- Keep an extra pair of underwear with you and change if you are damp.
- Gold Bond™ or Zeasorb (AF) ™ powder may be used 1 to 2 times per day to help absorb moisture.
- Do not use powders with cornstarch.
- You may help dryness and irritation during sex by using a lube.
- Silicone-based lubes such as Uberlube™ work well.
- Use a small amount of a pure vegetable oil (solid, liquid, or extra virgin olive oil).
- Over-the-counter water-based lubricants tend to dry out before sex is over.
- This may cause small tears in your vagina.
- They may have chemicals that can irritate.
- You can use a:
- Non-lubricated, non-spermicidal condom
- Vegetable oil lube
This will help keep the semen off the skin and reduce burning and irritation after sex.
Sores or lesions on the female genitalia or in the vagina may occur for many reasons.
Genital sores may be painful or itchy, or may produce no symptoms. Other symptoms that may be present include pain when you urinate or painful sexual intercourse. Depending on the cause, a discharge from the vagina may be present.
Infections spread through sexual contact can cause these sores:
- Herpes is a common cause of painful sores.
- Genital warts may cause painless sores.
Less common infections such as chancroid, granuloma inguinale, molluscum contagiosum, and syphilis may also cause sores.
Changes that may lead to cancer of the vulva (vulvar dysplasia) may appear as white, red, or brown patches on the vulva. These areas may itch. Skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas may also be found, but are less common.
Other common causes of genital sores include:
- Long-term (chronic) skin disorder that involves red itchy rashes (atopic dermatitis)
- Skin that becomes red, sore, or inflamed after contact with perfumes, detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, ointments, creams, douches (contact dermatitis)
- Cysts or abscesses of the Bartholin or other glands
- Trauma or scratches
- Flu-type viruses that can cause genital sores or ulcers in some cases
See a health care provider before treating yourself. Self-treatment may make it harder for the provider to find the source of the problem.
A sitz bath may help relieve itching and crusting.
If the sores are caused by a sexually transmitted infection, your sexual partner may need to be tested and treated as well. Do not have any type of sexual activity until your provider says the sores can no longer be spread to others.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you:
- Find any unexplained genital sore
- Have a change in a genital sore
- Have genital itching that does not go away with home care
- Think you might have a sexually transmitted infection
- Have pelvic pain, fever, vaginal bleeding, or other new symptoms as well as genital sores
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will perform a physical examination. This most often includes a pelvic examination. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Questions may include:
- What does the sore look like? Where is it located?
- When did you first notice it?
- Do you have more than one sore?
- Does it hurt or itch? Has it grown bigger?
- Have you ever had one before?
- How often do you have sexual activity?
- Do you have painful urination or pain during sexual intercourse?
- Do you have abnormal vaginal drainage?
The following tests may be done:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Blood differential
- Skin or mucosal biopsy
- Vaginal or cervical culture
- Microscopic vaginal secretion exam (wet mount)
Treatment may include medicines that you put on the skin or take by mouth. The type of medicine depends on the cause.
Sores on the female genitals
- Genital sores (female)
Augenbraun MH. Genital skin and mucous membrane lesions. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 106.
Frumovitz M. Neoplastic diseases of the vulva and vagina. In: Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, Lobo RA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 30.
Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Genital tract infections: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, endometritis, and salpingitis. In: Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, Lobo RA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 23.
Link RE, Tang N. Cutaneous diseases of the external genitalia. In: Partin AW, Dmochowski RR, Kavoussi LR, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh-Wein Urology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 59.
Most healthy vaginas have yeast. But sometimes your yeast grows too much and leads to an infection. Yeast infections can be very irritating and uncomfortable.
Think you may have a yeast infection?
What causes yeast infections?
A vaginal yeast infection, which is also sometimes called vulvovaginal candidiasis, happens when the healthy yeast that normally lives in your vagina grows out of control. It often leads to itching and other irritating symptoms. The medical name for a yeast infection is “candidiasis,” because they’re usually caused by a type of yeast called candida.
If your vaginal chemistry gets thrown off balance, the normal yeast that live in your vagina can grow too much and lead to an infection. Some things that can cause changes in your vagina’s environment are:
normal changes in hormone levels (like during your menstrual cycle)
antibiotics, cortisone, and other drugs
a weak immune system
a natural reaction to another person’s genital chemistry
Yeast infections can happen on penises and scrotums too, but it’s not as common. They can cause redness and irritation on your penis or scrotum.
Yeast infections aren’t an STD. They aren’t contagious, and can’t spread to another person during sex. But sexual contact sometimes leads to yeast infections — your body chemistry can have a bad reaction to another person’s natural genital yeast and bacteria, which causes yeast to grow.
People can also get a yeast infection on their mouth, throat, or tongue — that’s called “thrush.”
What are yeast infection symptoms?
Yeast infections often cause thick, white, clumpy vaginal discharge that usually doesn’t smell (or only smells slightly different than normal). You might also have a creamy, whitish coating in and around your vagina.
Most yeast infections lead to itching, burning, and/or redness in or around the vagina. Vaginal itching usually gets worse the longer you have the infection. Sex may be uncomfortable or painful. In extreme cases, you can get fissures or sores on your vagina or vulva . If you have lots of irritation, it may sting when you pee.
How do I treat yeast infections?
Yeast infections can usually be cured easily in a few days with anti-fungal medicine. You can get medicated creams or suppositories for yeast infections (like Monistat and other brands) at a drugstore, over-the-counter without a prescription.
Make sure you follow the directions and use all of the medicine, even if your symptoms go away before you finish. You can also treat yeast infections with a single pill that you swallow (called Diflucan or Fluconazole). You need a prescription from your doctor to get the yeast infection pill.
Don’t have vaginal or oral sex, or put anything into your vagina, until you’ve finished treatment and your infection goes away. Friction from sex can cause more irritation or make it harder to heal. And some medicines that you use in your vagina have oil in them, which can cause condoms to break.
Even though yeast infections can be really itchy, try not to scratch. It can make irritation worse or cause cuts in your skin, which can spread germs and lead to more infection. There are over-the-counter creams that you can use on your vulva to help calm the irritation. Your doctor can also give you tips on relieving burning and itching.
If you finish your treatment and your symptoms persist for more than a week, talk to your nurse or doctor to see what’s going on. You may require further treatment or something else may be causing the irritation. You can always schedule an appointment at your local Planned Parenthood health center.
Help us improve – how could this information be more helpful?
Here are ways to soothe itching and soreness after birth if you had vaginal tears or an episiotomy.
By: Norton Healthcare • Posted: May 27, 2020
After any vaginal delivery, you may have swelling and discomfort. If you had a vaginal tear or episiotomy with delivery, you may have stitches in the area as well as itching and soreness.
“Soreness in the vaginal area usually will begin to ease over six to 12 weeks after birth,” said Kenneth J. Payne, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton OB/GYN Associates. “Change your pads promptly and often. Be extra careful to wash your hands before and after to reduce the chance of infection. If you have concerns, please contact your provider.”
Postpartum Gynecologic Care
Part of treating more women than any other health system in Louisville means Norton Women’s Care providers are available with appointments and locations convenient to you.
To ease discomfort while you’re healing:
- Soak in warm water a few times per day. This can be in a tub or a sitz bath — a round, shallow basin that fits over the toilet seat. Warm water alone will boost the blood flow around the affected area, promoting healing.
If approved by your provider, Epsom salts, witch hazel, vinegar or baking soda can be added to the water to reduce itching and inhibit bacterial growth.
- Sit on a pillow or padded ring.
- Take any nonsteroidal medications, such as ibuprofen, as prescribed by your provider.
- Use a squeeze bottle to pour warm water on your perineum after you urinate.
- Placing a chilled witch hazel pad between a pad and the wound will decrease discomfort.
- Talk to your doctor about using over-the-counter pain relievers, or a numbing spray (Dermoplast).
Most women experience occasional bouts of a common yeast infection known as vaginal thrush. It causes itching, irritation and swelling of the vagina and surrounding area, sometimes with a creamy white cottage cheese-like discharge.
Vaginal thrush is fairly harmless, but it can be uncomfortable and it can keep coming back, which is known as recurrent thrush.
Thrush is a yeast infection, usually caused by a yeast-like fungus called ‘Candida albicans’.
Many women have Candida in their vagina without it causing any symptoms. Hormones in vaginal secretions and ‘friendly’ vaginal bacteria keep the fungus under control. Problems arise when the natural balance in the vagina is upset and Candida multiplies.
Vaginal thrush can sometimes be passed on during sex but is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, if you have thrush it’s best to avoid having sex until you’ve completed a course of treatment and the infection has cleared up.
You are more at risk of getting thrush while you’re pregnant. Changes in the levels of female hormones, such as oestrogen, increase your chances of developing thrush and make it more likely to keep coming back.
There is no evidence that thrush affects your chances of getting pregnant.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and you have thrush, you should avoid taking oral anti-thrush treatments. Instead, use vaginal pessaries, plus an anti-thrush cream if necessary.
If you have thrush and you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should always visit your doctor rather than buying anti-thrush medication over the counter from a pharmacy.
You won’t be prescribed oral treatment because it may affect your baby. An anti-thrush pessary, such as clotrimazole, nystatin or miconazole will probably be prescribed to be used for about 3 to 7 days.
If you’re pregnant, take care when inserting a pessary because there’s a risk of injuring your cervix (neck of the womb). To reduce the risk, it may be better to insert the pessaries by hand instead of using the applicator.
If you have symptoms around your vulva, such as itching and soreness, you may also be prescribed an anti-thrush cream.
Not all of these products are safe to use at different stages of pregnancy, so it’s important to talk to your doctor and pharmacist before using any products.
What can I do to prevent vaginal thrush?
There are a number of simple things you can do:
- Wear cotton or silk underwear rather than synthetics and change daily. Wear tights or stockings for as short a time as possible.
- Wash underwear in hot water and pure soap and double rinse to make sure any irritants are removed before you wear them.
- Change out of damp swimming costumes or sports clothes as soon as possible after swimming or exercise.
- If using pads, change them regularly and avoid perfumed or deodorised pads.
- Avoid tight fitting clothes such as jeans as this creates a moist, warm environment that encourages the overgrowth of bacteria and yeasts.
- Never douche — except if it is specifically prescribed by a doctor to treat an infection. Douching increases your risk of vaginal irritation and is not recommended during pregnancy. A healthy vagina does not need a vaginal deodorant.
- Avoid using soaps, bubble baths, bath salts, perfumes and perfumed talcs around the vaginal area. And never ever use anything harsh such as disinfectants — even diluted, near your vagina.
- A gentle moisturiser like aqueous cream may be advised. Use water or soap substitutes to wash the area.
- Always wipe from the front to the back after going to the toilet since this stops bowel organisms being swept into the vagina. Don’t use perfumed toilet paper because it can cause irritation.
Vaginal pain is a common discomfort and it generally does not indicate any serious condition. Most of the time, it is just a consequence of using very tight clothes or an allergy to a condom or soap. However, when vaginal pain is frequent, does not improve with time or occurs with other symptoms, it can also be a sign of more serious health problems, such as an STI or cysts.
If you are experiencing pain or burning with urination, skin redness in the area, swelling, wounds, lumps, or bleeding, it’s important to see your doctor for assessment and treatment as indicated.
The main causes for vaginal pain are:
1. Tight clothes
Wearing tight clothes is usually the main cause of vaginal pain. Clothes that are too tight and made of synthetic materials can decrease airflow to the genital area, which increases the temperature and moisture. Hot and wet skin is the perfect breeding ground for fungi and bacteria.
What to do: It is advised that you wear looser clothes that are made of breathable fabrics, and wear cotton underwear. Sleeping without underwear is also beneficial as it allows for more airflow in the genital area for longer periods of time. If your symptoms do not improve with changes to clothing, you should see your doctor for assessment.
Vaginal pain during pregnancy is common and does not present a risk to the mother or the baby. It is most common in the third trimester which is when the baby’s weight within the uterus starts putting pressure on the mother’s organs and starts to get closer to the vaginal canal.
What to do: This is a normal, expected finding, and therefore treatment is not required. However, if the pain persists and occurs with other symptoms, it’s important to visit your obstetrician so that she can examine you.
3. Allergic reactions
Some women have increased sensitivity to some products, such as soap, fabric softener, menstrual pads, toilet paper, or some types of condom. The usual symptoms of allergic reactions are swelling, redness, itchiness, pain, or burning in the vagina.
What to do: it’s important to identify the cause of the allergy and avoid using any product that may trigger a reaction. Depending on your symptom intensity, the doctor may prescribe medication like topical anti-inflammatories to use on the affected region.
4. Urinary tract infections
Women are likely to have more than one urinary tract infection, or UTI, in their lifetime. This is because the female urethra is short and the vagina and the anus are close together, which favors the migration and proliferation of fungi and bacteria. UTIs generally happen with inadequate hygiene or due to tight clothes, which don’t allow for much air-flow.
When you have a urinary infection, you usually feel like you need to urinate but not much urine comes out. You may also feel pain, burning, or itchiness in the vagina. Learn more about the most common UTI symptoms and how it may present differently in men.
What to do: As soon as you notice the first symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you should see your doctor who will order a urine test to identify the agent that is causing the infection. Once identified, treatment can be initiated. It is generally done with antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or ciprofloxacin. Learn about other medications that are typically prescribed as well as some natural remedies you can use to complement your treatment plan.
5. Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections or STIs are diseases caused by microorganisms that are spread through unprotected sexual intercourse. Your risk for catching an STI is higher if you have more than one partner during the same time period. Common symptoms of an STI include redness, small wounds, lumps or warts in the genital region, burning sensation when urinating, vaginal discharge, and pain.
What to do: If you have symptoms of an STI and recently engaged in risky behavior, you should see your doctor for assessment. While performing an assessment, he or she will likely collect a specimen for lab analysis to confirm an infection. Usually, treatment is done through antibiotics, antifungal medication, or antivirals and depends on the underlying infection.
Even though some STDs are curable with treatment, it’s important to use a condom during sexual intercourse and to avoid intercourse with more than one partner.
Some cysts can change the anatomy of the vagina and lead to pain. This happens with ovarian cysts, which are pockets full of liquid that form inside or around the ovary. Learn more about the symptoms associated with ovarian cysts and how they are treated.
Some vaginal cysts can also cause pain, such as Bartholin’s cyst and Skene duct cyst, which are cysts formed in glands that are located in the vagina.
What to do: If you notice bleeding that occurs outside the menstrual period, pain during sexual intercourse, difficulty getting pregnant, late periods or vaginal pain, you should see your doctor, as these symptoms may be a sign of a cysts.
The treatment prescribed by the doctor will differ depending on the size of the cyst. Treatment can vary with simple approaches, like antibiotics, to more complex approaches like surgical interventions to remove the cyst, or even the uterus.
7. Vaginal dryness
Vaginal dryness happens due to decreased estrogen production, which is a female hormone that commonly becomes lower during menopause. When the production of mucous decreases, you may feel vaginal pain, generally during sexual intercourse.
What to do: To decrease the discomfort caused by a dry vagina, you can use lubricants to ease sexual intercourse, use vaginal moisturizers, or even undergo hormone therapy under doctor supervision.
Vaginal pain and extreme difficulty penetrating can be caused by vaginismus, which is a rare disease. Although it is not very well known it is thought to be caused by physical factors, genital diseases or psychological trauma (from sexual abuse, traumatic labor, or previous surgical procedures, for example).
What to do: In order to find out if you have vaginismus, you should see a gynecologist for assessment and guidance. There is treatment available, which can be done with medication and psychological therapy which can help improve sexual intercourse.