Some girls/women are sensitive to products they use on the vulva (the external skin of your genitals). Bubble bath, shower gel, washing powder, lube, condoms or types of fabric can be irritants.
Sometimes itching and sensitivity are signs of infections like candida or bacterial vaginosis (BV). It can also be an indication of lichen sclerosis.
The vulva and labia can become irritated or itchy for a number of reasons, including vaginitis. Yeast infections (candida), bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis are all types of vaginitis that can cause itching and pain in the vulva and genital area. Some sexually transmitted infections like herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea are also causes of vaginal inflammation and itching.
Bacterial vaginosis happens when the wrong bacteria start to grow in your vagina and disrupts your body’s natural balance. It’s normal to have some bacteria in your vulva, but if you have too many, it can cause symptoms like a thin, milky discharge with a fishy smell that gets worse after sex. A yeast infection can be caused by a naturally-occurring fungus called Candida or a hormone change, such as reduced estrogen levels after menopause. It might also include itching and a frothy, white discharge that can have a foul smell.
The genital area can also be sensitive due to irritation from perfumed soaps and feminine products, scented douches or sprays, spermicidal creams, lotions, fabric softeners and long-term use of tampons or pads. A genital wart is another common cause of itching and can be found in the vulva, cervix or general groin areas. They’re caused by two low-risk strains of the HPV virus and aren’t linked to cervical cancer.
The vagina and vulva have some of the most sensitive skin on our bodies. If we’re not careful, it can be easily irritated by the wrong substances. Allergies to certain foods, chemicals or airborne allergens can cause rashes and other symptoms in the vulva area.
A rash in the vulva can be an indicator of something serious like an infection or autoimmune condition, so it’s important to consult your doctor to get a diagnosis. Some rash-causing substances that may irritate the vulva include panty liners, sanitary products and toilet paper, soaps, perfumes and fabric dyes.
Allergies to sperm, known as semen allergy or seminal plasma hypersensitivity, can also cause itching in the vulva. If you’re experiencing itchy feelings after sex, make an appointment with your gynecologist to test for this rare condition.
Allergies to the vulva are often misdiagnosed because they share a lot of the same symptoms as yeast infections and some STIs. Unlike infections, “with an allergy, the symptoms will manifest almost immediately after the point of contact,” says Dr. Shepherd. This is because the immune system overreacts to a foreign substance that isn’t part of your body, according to Cleveland Clinic. Treatment for allergies to the vulva includes antihistamines and eliminating exposure to the offending substances. Sublingual immunotherapy can help create long-term tolerance to allergens and prevent chronic vaginitis.
The vulva has a network of more than 8,000 nerves. So when it’s used a lot (for example, during sports), it can become sensitive. It can also be sensitive to certain products that are applied in the area such as perfumed soaps, bath bombs and bubble bath; feminine hygiene sprays; scented toilet paper; or clothing like pantyhose and G-strings.
If you are prone to irritation down there, talk to your doctor about what products are best for you. Try to avoid douching or steaming and use only water or salt water when washing. Avoid wearing tight jeans, Spanx and other tight underwear as this can rub against the vaginal walls. It can be helpful to wash your underwear, towels and sheets with unscented detergent.
It is also a good idea to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated as this can help prevent irritation. Finally, if you have been using hormonal birth control, it is a good idea to discuss switching to a different type with your doctor. This is because birth control can sometimes cause dryness down there.
Pelvic floor issues
It might be a bit embarrassing to discuss, but our bodies have a way of signaling when things are off. That’s why it’s important to listen to our vulva and learn what it’s telling us.
For example, vaginal pain can be a sign of something serious like fibroids. A healthcare provider will do a pelvic exam to check for these growths and get a sense of how big they are.
Another possible cause of vulva pain is pelvic floor dysfunction. This is a health condition that occurs when the muscles and ligaments in the pelvic area weaken. This can occur after childbirth or as women enter menopause. Women may experience bladder leaks or other symptoms if this happens. Practicing Kegel exercises and using natural lubricants can help to increase female sensitivity and orgasms.
The vulva is a melon-sized web of muscles, ligaments, and exquisitely sensitive nerves. It supports the uterus, bladder, and urethra. It also controls urination, defecation, and sexual function. This network of muscles and nerves is very sensitive and can be affected by many factors, including aging, hormone declines, and tight muscles—like the ones built up by faithfully doing the Kegel exercises gynecologists recommend. This can lead to vulvodynia, a medical term that means “pain in the vulva.” Luckily, a sore vulva is rarely an emergency.