Why is My Vagina Sensitive?

bathtub with water and flowers

A tingling, burning sensation in the vulva is normal. But, if it persists for longer than a few hours or days, see your healthcare provider. It could be a sign of vulvodynia.

Keep the area dry. Bathe with unscented soap and avoid using perfumed soaps in the vulva. Wear loose clothing – not girdles, pantyhose or tight jeans.

1. Change in lifestyle

Some women find their vulva becomes sensitive as they change their lifestyle. This can be due to factors such as wearing tight thongs, not sleeping enough, using scented soaps, feminine products or lubricants, cycling or horseback riding and long-term use of panty liners. This is called localized vulvodynia and can be very painful.

The vulva is self-cleaning and contains a delicate balance of good bacteria, which is why it is important to avoid douching and avoid irritants such as fragranced soaps around the area. It is also important to get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water to keep the area well hydrated. Acupuncture can help reduce pain and symptoms for some people.

If you are concerned about your vulva becoming sensitive or notice other changes in how your body feels, talk to your doctor or pelvic floor therapist. They can help identify the underlying cause and advise you on the next steps. They may recommend a technique such as acupuncture, vaginal desensitization and a vulva trainer (a smooth cone of increasing size that can be inserted into the vulva to relax the muscles). They may also suggest cognitive behavioural therapy or psychosexual counselling to help address how the pain is impacting your life.

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2. Hormonal changes

Whether you are in perimenopause or have reached menopause, hormonal changes can cause irritation and discomfort in the vulva. The vulva (also called the labia, clitoris, or urethra) is sensitive to hormonal changes because it has receptors for female sex hormones.

If the vulva becomes chronically sore or painful, this is called vulvodynia. Pain can also occur when using the toilet or inserting a tampon. These symptoms are usually the result of an underlying condition such as a yeast infection or other skin or health conditions including herpes, precancerous skin cells, genitourinary syndrome of menopause, and diabetes.

As estrogen levels decline during perimenopause and menopause, women may experience vaginal atrophy or dryness, itching, soreness, and pain with intercourse. They may also develop a yeast-like odour due to the bacteria that live in their vulva.

3. Stress

Stress can affect your body in a number of ways including stomach cramps, headaches and muscle tension. It can also throw your hormones out of balance, leading to itching in the vulva area. The itching can occur in any area of the vulva (labia, clitoris, urethra or vaginal opening) and is usually temporary and treatable at home.

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When you are under stress, your cortisol levels increase, causing blood sugar to rise. Yeast, which is normally in check by the healthy bacteria lactobacilli, thrives on this sugar and may cause a yeast infection.

The best way to address this is by reducing your overall stress levels and using holistic feminine health products such as boric acid suppositories from pH-D Feminine Health. If your symptoms persist, you should speak to your gynecologist for further advice.

4. Trauma

Injuries to the vulva and vagina can be very painful. Whether they are due to sex, childbirth, an accident like being kicked in the groin while playing sports or other traumas that include sexual assault, female genital cutting, male genital injury and other kinds of physical injuries, pain can last for a long time. If you are having chronic sore vulva or vaginal pain, it’s important to talk to your GP about it. They will need to examine your vulva and vagina to make an accurate diagnosis. If you don’t have a doctor who can help, Jean Hailes clinics and other women’s health services can recommend one.

Injuries to the labia can cause severe pain and bleeding, particularly if there is a large pocket of blood (hematoma). A hematoma needs to be drained urgently. Occasionally people develop vaginismus which is the body’s automatic reaction to fear of some or all types of penetrative sex, so that the muscles tighten automatically whenever penetration is attempted. This needs to be treated with a pelvic floor therapist, usually in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy.

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5. Infections

Vaginal irritation can occur when there’s an infection or if the area is exposed to irritants. Bacteria, yeast and viruses can all cause infections of the vulva or vagina. Chemical irritants such as perfumed soaps, sprays or laundry detergents that touch the area can also be an issue. Infections can be caused by organisms passed on from sexual partners or they can happen because of a change in your normal vulva microbiome that shifts the balance between good bacteria and bad ones.

For example, bacterial vaginosis (BV) usually causes a thin grayish-white to greenish discharge with a fishy smell and can cause itching, burning sensations, and pain when you pee. It may also be linked to a urinary tract infection (UTI). Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause the same symptoms. And trichomoniasis is a one-celled parasite spread through unprotected sex and sometimes by sharing sex toys. It can also cause itching and a vaginal discharge similar to BV. A fungal infection called Candida can also be a reason for itching and oozing. It’s often found in the mouth, skin folds and nail beds, but it can also grow in the vulva.

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