Aunt Vadge: my vulva is really, really sensitive

Dear Aunt Vadge, 

I really don’t know if I’m just extremely sensitive in my vag area, but this has been happening for as long as I can remember, where when I take a shower my inner vag lips tend to burn/hurt as if I have some type of bruising or cut in the area.

I figure it just happens cause maybe I wipe myself too hard or maybe the toilet paper is too rough. When I change the toilet paper I’m using or wet a different type and use it, I don’t really have this problem, which is the reason I reached the conclusion that I just might be really sensitive down there. 

I have only been sexually active in the past year alone, and for like the past month on and off, the same has been occurring again. I am still using the same paper, so now I don’t know if I caught something from my partner or if it’s the paper issue again. Like I said this has been happening long before I became sexually active, but this time it seems worse than ever before.

So my question is, what do you think this might be? Do you have any advice? 

And what is a polite way to ask my partner if he is sick or if he can get checked out without being offended? (Keeping in mind that he is sensitive / anger issues so he might take it the wrong way).

Also, my partner and I do have a lot of foreplay, but for some reason I don’t get wet the way I’m supposed to. In fact it’s dry down there most of the time even after using lube or spit. 

He is very great partner to have intercourse with, but when I masturbate on my own, moisture happens down there the way it’s supposed to, and though it is not a lot, it does happen and it takes a long time before happening. 

What is that a sign of? What are are some others ways to make that happen seeing as how lube and spit don’t work the way it supposed to either? And do you have any advice on how to bring a man to his climax?!

Thank you.
Dry
Age: 22
Country/Area: USA

Dear Dry,

You have presented a few different questions here.

We will assume that you are sexually aroused, but your body is not producing enough natural lubrication. This happens when you are by yourself, but not as much as when you are with your partner. When you’re by yourself, you mention that you do get wet, but it takes a long time, and isn’t much.

This is likely because by yourself, you are in control of where you are being touched, and sex with a partner can take longer and be less satisfying than masturbating. This would allow more moisture to stick around – you know exactly how to touch yourself, so are efficient with your actions.

A few things come to mind as to why you could be so dry, so you’ll need to go through this list and figure out which ones apply to you. You are young, so some of them may be unlikely, but they are worth investigating anyway.

In terms of asking your boyfriend to get STD tested, you don’t need to – you can go and get tested yourself, and if it comes back positive, you know you have to talk it over with him. If the results are clear, you don’t need to talk about it.

Irritant dermatitis.
This form of dermatitis is caused by something that is touching your vulva and vagina, for example a soap you are sensitive to, toilet paper (particularly cheap or printed toilet paper), or the laundry detergent you wash your underwear in. It can stick around so long as you are using the product. Irritant dermatitis can be caused by lots of things – any douches, creams, condoms, birth control devices, detergents, lubes, perfumes and so on. The symptoms are what you describe – sensitive, delicate, stinging vagina and vulva. This would be aggravated by sex.

To combat this, completely switch every product you use to a hypoallergenic version. This means laundry liquid, soap, and toilet paper. When you wash your vulva, make sure you never get any soap between your labia, as your delicate tissue doesn’t like it at all. Use warm water, just your hand, and use minimal soap or body wash. For a few days, you could even try using no soap at all as an experiment.

Write down all your experiments, and do each of them for at least one or two weeks. Be diligent. You can read more about irritant/contact dermatitis of the vulva here.

Low oestrogen.
You are 22, so unless you have an issue with your ovaries, having low oestrogen is unlikely – but not impossible. Oestrogen is produced in the ovaries, so when something goes awry in the ovary, and oestrogen stops being produced, it can cause what’s known as atrophic vaginitis. This typically happens in women who have reached menopause or who have had their ovaries removed. This makes the vagina and vulva sore, easily irritated, and delicate – quite like you described. This would be aggravated by sex.

Do the dermatitis experiment first, but in the meantime, think about your cycles. Make sure you are charting your cycles (use a period tracker app) and recording all your symptoms – pains, how much blood, cycle length, skipped periods, cramping, bloating, mood changes, etc. If the problem persists past the dermatitis test, it’s time to see a doctor. Things that can go wrong with your ovaries include growths, underactivity, and other diseases that cause malfunctions.

Medication.
Some medications, including antidepressants, can cause dryness. Check each medication you take regularly (if any) and look up each of them online and read the pamphlet to see if dryness could be a side-effect. If this is the case, speak to your doctor about your dose, and ask if there are any alternatives.

An issue with your Skene’s glands.
Your Skene’s glands are tiny little glands that sit adjacent to your urethral opening that produce lubrication when you are aroused. This is different to the fluid that causes vaginal discharge during your cycle (that is from your cervix) and other areas of your vagina and vulva that produce oils and moisture. It’s very hard to tell without being examined, but consider that there is a Skene’s gland blockage or cyst, or even perhaps another problem with the function of these little glands. You can read more about the Skene’s glands here. 

You could be anxious too.
You mention your partner is sensitive and has an anger problem. This is not an aphrodisiac! Having a volatile partner is a quick route to being dry as a desert, since great sex typically means having a partner you can trust to care for you, in whatever way that means. Having an oversensitive, easily-angered partner means you are constantly walking on eggshells, being cautious with your words and actions, and when you say something that upsets him, trying to backtrack and smooth things over. This is not a recipe for harmony in sex or love.

While he won’t like it, it’s important that if his behaviour is causing you to feel anxious or unsafe, he could use help dealing with his emotions in a healthier way – there are many counselling services available, including men-only groups. You are 22, so having a boyfriend who flies off the handle easily may be a first for you. Make sure you care for yourself, since without help, this problem usually only escalates into a bigger problem. Without some sort of help understanding what’s going on, feelings don’t get simpler, or easier to deal with over time, only harder and more complex.

Be careful with your feelings, and don’t let his feelings override your enjoyment of your life. If you need help yourself in managing the relationship, talk to someone you trust about it. Crappy relationships are a dime a dozen, and they always start off with someone who can’t communicate effectively, but who won’t get the help they need. This is all of us at some point (we are not born good communicators), but the willingness to do better really counts in love.

Men tend to have fewer options for expressing their feelings, so while it’s understandable in many ways why quite a few men are crippled by their emotions, resorting to anger is no longer an acceptable way to manage one’s feelings. For this reason, being anxious will dry you up quicker than anything.

Birth control.
Some hormonal birth control can affect vaginal moisture, such as the pill, vaginal rings, and implants. Hormonal birth control may need to be avoided entirely in your case, but watch out for condoms too – they could be causing a contact dermatitis reaction.

Sjogren’s syndrome.
A dry vagina could be the beginning stages of an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome, which affects all the moisture-producing glands in your body. That means the eyes, throat, nose, etc. all become really dry. Check out the page on Sjogren’s syndrome, and see if any of the symptoms match. It seems unlikely, as you would have had other symptoms that you’d seen a doctor about, but it’s not impossible.

Vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia is an extremely painful, sensitive vulva. The cause is unknown, and seems to vary between women, but it’s possibly caused by hormones, yeasts, and other things we might encounter. Read more about vulvodynia (also known as vulvar vestibulitis) and see if the symptoms match. If they do, you need to speak to your doctor about it and get a proper diagnosis.

Not being sufficiently turned on.
I realise this seems dumb, but are you really horny? Not being turned on enough is the prime cause of dryness, so as long as you feel like you have that covered, I won’t go on. But, think it over very carefully. Being really turned on and able to orgasm means you are probably ok, but if at any point you are having fun, but not super turned on, you need to adjust your practices so that you are. See if that makes a difference to your wetness. You mention masturbating, so I feel like you’ve probably got that covered, but just had to say it!

Vaginal moisturisers.
There are a lot of really great vaginal moisturisers around, but before you go down that route, you need to establish the cause of your dryness. It’s possible that you were just born like that and need to find ways around it, but it’s also unusual that you are never dripping wet with pure excitement. Vaginal moisturisers have special polymer ingredients that make it stick to the vaginal walls, which will help stop the sensitivity of your vulva when you wipe and have sex.

Write anytime – let me know how you go!

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.
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

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