Aunt Vadge: clitoral hood tears returning

Hi Aunt Vadge,

I’m almost eighteen and I’m from the US. My problem started a couple months ago. It was during spring track season. During masturbating, I had to stop because I had sharp pain on my labia. I took a mirror and looked and saw that the labia connecting from my clitoris to my right flap of labia tore slightly.

I freaked out and eventually told my mom. I asked if I could go to the doctors because I thought I might need stitches and she said no. That it would heal itself. I think she thought it was a vaginal tear, but it is the labia around the clit.

So I looked up everywhere online and I feel really alone. It makes me scared. Anyways. I’m at a precollege program right now and funnily enough, I did just masturbate about a hour ago. I don’t have intense pains but it was a little uncomfortable so I looked in the mirror and these two tiny flaps of labia on the clit, the right one is slightly disconnected. It was hurting a couple days ago so I don’t know if this tear is from today or a couple days ago.

I never – or at least I don’t remember – having a clitoral hood. I have one I suppose but it doesn’t stay over my clitoris. I can easily see my clit. I wonder if the circular motions with my fingers on my clit is ripping the labia. I wonder if a clitorial hood which stayed on top of the clitoris prevents this, as I masturbate I push it over the clit so it feels better (even before this, all my life).

I am so happy I found this way of asking for help. I’m pretty emotional right now because I am going on a week long vacation after I get out of this program next week, and I just want my labia to be healthy and stop tearing. There has never been blood, redness, swelling, discharge or anything. It is just pain.

The worst pain was the first tear. I haven’t had pain like that, that pain lasted about a week. I think I need stitches to help the labia stay in place to regrow back. I don’t know what to do. Should I see the gynecologist or doctor? How much do these cost?

Thank you. I would love a response as soon as possible.

Freaking Out

Dear Freaking Out,
Thanks for your email. First things first – relax! You are going to be just fine. Your vulva sounds like it is behaving reasonably normally – this sort of stuff happens, more frequently than you might think. Vulvas are very delicate little things.

So let’s talk about what’s happening here.

The clitoral hood is a piece of skin that covers and protects the glans of the clitoris from damage. (The clitoris actually goes deep inside the body, with the glans being like the head of a penis – not all there is.) It also provides – like the foreskin – a pleasure portal, as the hood can be rubbed across the clitoris during sexual arousal instead of direct contact, which can be too intense for some women. Some clitorises are more sensitive than others, and all of this depends on the body you were born with. Some clitoral hoods are also bigger than others, and as you mention, yours seems to be tucked back into your body for the most part.

Your clitoral hood – which every woman has in some shape or form – is very likely to be tearing ever so slightly because the skin that connects it to the labia minora , the inner vaginal lips, is being stressed during masturbating.

This little join is very, very delicate – I don’t think you’ll find a woman alive who hasn’t torn this at some point or another. I know I have, and that was when I was investigating my labia, and was simply taking a look! I had no idea it was so delicate, but I do now, and I’m more careful, because that little tear is – like you now know – very painful indeed. It has happened to me several times since, sometimes from sex, other times just from showering and simply cleaning my vulva. I know about it, I’m more gentle, and it doesn’t happen anymore, but I think about it every time I wash my vulva!

You mention that you’ve been masturbating for quite some time now, and this hasn’t ever happened before. This may be because your body is still growing and changing, including your vulva. Your body doesn’t stop growing into the fully mature form it will take until you are in your mid-20s, which means your vulva may have simply grown and changed the slightest little bit, and now your touch is not having the exact same result.

The first time was the worst, which might mean that you have to either change your masturbating practices to keep your clitorial hood attachments fully in the place they grow, or your body will adjust to what you force it to – this means that your vulva will naturally stay the slightest bit disconnected from your inner labia so as not to continually tear. This – if you are ok with that – is completely fine. You don’t need to get it reattached, as it would be pointless – it would simply keep tearing.

Leaving it ‘torn’ (and healed) might be completely normal for you, and prevent damage in future when you engage in further sexual activities.

There is no blood, swelling or other visible inflammation besides the pain, and although the pain isn’t ideal, you will likely find that after a few more times, it doesn’t tear anymore and no longer hurts. This should be a one-time thing, though throughout your life you will find you get vaginal tears for a number of reasons. This particular variant, however, shouldn’t keep happening.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason for you to get stitches unless your entire clitoral hood was disconnecting from your labia, there was excrutiating pain, bleeding, infection or otherwise. Sometimes our bodies just need tiny little adjustments to work properly in the world – this is no different than the cut of a tongue-tied baby, getting dental work to adjust your jaw so you can eat or swallow properly, or the many other adjustments we make to our bodies so life becomes a bit easier. We are not born as perfect as we are led to believe!

My recommendations are:

  1. Go on your vacation and enjoy yourself, and don’t worry about your vulva – you are really ok, and this is not a drama (even though it feels like one).
  2. Don’t masturbate until the small tears are fully healed, otherwise you are just aggravating the small cut.
  3. Masturbate as you normally would, if you want to, being careful – you can gently ‘expand’ your clitoral hood’s capabilities by being gentle. Experiment – it’s your vulva, and the better you get at understanding its nature, the better vaginal experience you will have over the course of your life.
  4. Use a small amount of a natural vegetable oil (coconut, olive, or even just pawpaw ointment) to keep the small tears lubricated as they heal – dry tears tend to hurt more. This may also be useful when you masturbate in future, just to allow your tissue to slide rather than catch. You can be the judge of this – experiment.
  5. When you get back from your vacation, visit your local free sexual health clinic (or find one where you are headed on vacation – depending on the area you live, there might not be a great service available), and ask them to quickly examine you to make sure everything is ok. You want to rest assured that you are normal, your vulva is healthy, and there is no greater problem that may exist that I can’t observe from a distance. I suspect you will find you are just fine. Talk to them about your concerns – they are there to help.
  6. If the tearing continues, and stays bad, it might be prudent to visit a doctor to discuss your concerns. A doctor’s fee is variable, however if it does continue, discuss this with your mother later down the track, and explain that it keeps happening, and is not improving. She will then no doubt be happy to take you to the doctor and pay. (Thanks mum!)
  7. Your mum has had a vagina for a long time now, and when she says, ‘It’ll heal up by itself’ she knows what she’s talking about. She has very likely had lots of sex, masturbated and (probably) given birth at least once, and if she knows about one thing, it’s vaginal tears of all kinds. So don’t worry – what’s lovely is that if it goes horribly wrong, you can always get help from your mum, and worst case scenario, you can make her check your vulva. She’s done worse for you.

If you need any more help with anything, feel free to ask away anytime. We’d love to hear from you!

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge