Aunt Vadge: why do I have a dry patch on my labia?

Dear Aunt Vadge,

I’m 16 years old and for the past year and a bit, I have noticed that the right outer lip of my vagina is dry and occasionally the skin cracks and flakes. I have been masturbating since I was 12, and I think this may be the cause. It looks very irritated and red, which I do not understand as I do not rub this area.

The only other possible explanation for this may be because I occasionally shave that area, however I always use shaving cream and the left side never gets irritated. I am very insecure about the appearance of it and I have tried to make this problem go away for a long time by using Vaseline. Also, I only wear cotton underwear so I know that this irritation can’t be from the underwear I’m wearing.

The appearance of my vagina really embarrasses me and I dreading when I become sexually active. I am worried that this could be something serious or something that won’t go away. I have tried to mention the symptoms to my mom before and have even shown her but she has only suggested Vaseline or vitamin E oil to apply, and nothing works. Everything else about my vagina seems normal, I don’t think I have an infection, as I have researched the symptoms and the only one that matches is the dryness.

I have tried to quit masturbating, but the longest I’ve gone was just over a week and the dryness did not improve. I am not even sure if masturbating is what is causing this dryness. It embarrasses me a lot to have to write this message but I am desperate for advice and information on what is going on.

Should I stop masturbating? Are there any remedies for the dryness? If so, how long will it take for me to start noticing a change?

Yours,

Dry

_______

Dear Dry,

Your dry patch doesn’t sound like very much fun – I can understand why you feel embarrassed and distressed. Unexplained weird bits on our bodies are frightening, and it can be really hard to talk about, so congrats on having the guts to write to me. Thank you for your lovely email.

You are right – it doesn’t sound like an infection, fungal or bacterial, nor does it appear to be caused by your underwear or masturbating. (You should definitely never stop masturbating!)

It is possible that you are suffering from genital psoriasis, as you are about the age at which it often starts to appear.

Psoriasis is a condition whereby your skin cells shed faster than usual, causing dry, flaky skin, usually triggered by your immune system for unknown reasons. You’d be surprised how common it is. It can be itchy or red or scaly or bumpy, and it can also appear in funny places (most commonly elbows and knees). Generally people who get only get a patch on the genitals won’t actually get it other places, which is good news for you, if this is what you have.

Even though it is typically a gross idea, a quick Google Images search for ‘vaginal psoriasis’ or ‘genital psoriasis vulva’ will show you what it looks like on other people.

You need to get an accurate diagnosis, however, so make an appointment with your local doctor or dermatologist. They see this type of thing all the time, and will easily be able to tell you what it is, and further, how to treat it so you can get on with your life, and become sexually active when you are ready to without feeling embarrassed. There is nothing as good at killing your sex life before it begins than with shame.

The treatment for psoriasis is multifaceted. Your doctor will very likely immediately prescribe you a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cream (a weak solution suitable for genital application), which may work very well and clear you up, with it never to return. This is the best-case scenario. It tapers down from there in terms of how you can reduce the size of the dry patch until it disappears, and then prevent further attacks.

This will take some effort – you will need to eat well, sleep well, make sure you have a stress-management plan, and clear up, as much as you can, any malingering emotions and stress. Stress is well known to exacerbate psoriasis. Naturopathically speaking, you have to make sure your body and soul are in tip-top shape. What you learn during this process will set you up for life, so do your best and you’ll get results one way or another.

Psoriasis is treatable, but it usually takes a little while, and you’ll need to do a couple of different things including flashing your vulva to the sunshine – UV rays are known to help with psoriasis and applying sometimes-very-smelly annoying cream for short-term relief. Psoriasis is an inside problem manifesting on the outside, so don’t just look at your skin for the solution: the answer, as per usual, lies within.

Check out our article on genital psoriasis for a clearer explanation and more help on what to do about it. We wrote it just for you!

Let us know how you go.

With much love,

Aunt Vadge