Aunt Vadge: sores and swollen vulva – what’s happening to me?

Hi Aunt Vadge,

So I have only ever had sex with one person (my fiancé) and we have sex almost every other night. Three days ago my vagina started hurting during intercourse and it kept getting worse. So yesterday I asked my fiancé to look at it and took a picture for me. I saw about two cuts that look like they came from stretching my skin too far and I had about three sores that were flesh-colored.

The next day I could barely sleep through the night because of the pain I was in. In the morning, walking, sitting, and basically moving hurt. My fiancé took another look and told me it was much worse. He took another picture and my lips were swollen incredibly. My pubic mound is also incredibly swollen and achy. I took a bath with baking soda because I read that helps with the pain. It did a little bit, but the sores are still there.

Yours,
Swollen and Sore
USA, Age 20

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Dear Swollen and Sore,

Thanks for the photographs and information. It sounds and looks really sore!

Sores and tiny blisters in, on and around the vaginal area could arise from a few causes, so it’s really important that you immediately go and get tested at the doctor/sexual health clinic while the sores are present. There is no home remedy that can determine the cause, which is the important bit of information required before we see how we can reduce your symptoms. That comes after.

Some options (but it could also be a bunch of other stuff – this list is not exhaustive!)

  • Allergic dermatitis reaction to something you are using on or around your vagina (soap, laundry detergent, nylon underwear), or a newly-developed latex (if you use condoms) or semen allergy
  • Genital herpes (before you jump to any terrible conclusions about your fiancé’s fidelity, this virus can – and frequently does – lie dormant in many people, and a person can be a carrier, but never get an eruption and never know about it, but can pass it on to others, who may get symptoms)
  • Other infection (such as the ‘other’ chlamydia)

No matter what the cause, you need to be examined as soon as possible.

How to prepare for your appointment

Write down all the events that have happened in the past week, including sex, lubricants, condoms, sex toy use, anything near your vagina, any changes you’ve made to laundry detergents or clothing or diet, any possible triggers you can identify, and any other symptoms you have been having, including flu-like symptoms (headaches, fever, chills, head cold) that may indicate a virus. It’s important to write this information down with an accurate timeline to help diagnosis, since our memories are extremely unreliable.

Painkillers/anti-inflammatories

Over-the-counter painkillers/anti-inflammatories may help, but make sure you record what you’ve taken (and dose) and don’t take anything you haven’t taken before. The pain of genital sores can be severe, and make life really uncomfortable, so the sooner you find out what the problem is, the sooner you can get a treatment. An oat bath or ice pack may help temporarily.

Identifying the cause

Because it’s important that the sores can be identified appropriately, I can’t recommend anything that may attempt to reduce or eradicate them – you need to show the doctor, and then once you have a diagnosis, then you can start with more effective treatments and we can definitely help with that. Sorry about that, but the true cause must be found immediately before any treatment can start.

If you have any questions about the process from here, please feel free to ask.

May the vagina fairies be with you!

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

Hi again Aunt Vadge,

So I emailed you about my vagina problems on Sunday, but since then it’s gotten so much worse. My vag is swollen shut, and I went to the doctor but she doesn’t know what it is. I’m on an antiviral in case it’s herpes and an antibacterial.

If you have any ideas at to what it could be please help. 

Yours,
Swollen and Sore

Hi again Swollen and Sore,

That looks really swollen! I really don’t know what it is sorry, since to figure it out we’d need to take quite a detailed history from you. Swelling is often associated with allergies, so you could talk to your doctor about antihistamines to try to get the swelling down?

I’m not sure, but if your doctor doesn’t know, you could try another doctor or a sexual health clinic who looks at vaginas all the time. A gynaecologist could also be useful.

Sorry we can’t be more help!

Let us know how you go. And try not to worry too much – it is painful and swollen and hurts now, but this is a reaction to something and will go away, and no matter what the cause, you will get back to normal. Things like this don’t stick around, as it’s an extreme response to either a virus, allergy, or something else – so like when you sprain your ankle, it flares up and gets inflamed, and then it calms down and heals.

Write anytime if you need some moral support or if you get a firm diagnosis you want more help with.

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.