Because your nether regions can’t exactly tell you what’s wrong.
Let’s face it—there’s a lot that can go wrong below the belt. From itches and odors to bumps and bleeding, sometimes it seems like you need a manual. So we consulted the experts for nine common vagina problems and how to deal—fast!
You Noticed a Weird Bump
Who wouldn’t freak out after seeing a lump or mark on their privates? This could be so many things, but it’s likely not serious, says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D., coauthor of V is for Vagina. It could be anything from an ingrown hair to a sebaceous cyst (a lesion under the skin), says Dweck. Warm soaks are a good first line of defense, but you can also apply a little over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream if it seems inflamed, she says. If it persists or hurts, check with your doctor as it may be a sign of an infection.
There’s a Funky Smell
If there’s an odor coming from your bikini line, trust us, you’ll know something is up. The problem is, this smell could have a ton of possible causes, but you’ll want to see your doctor no matter what. If it’s a foul-smelling discharge, it could be a bacterial infection like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis, says ob-gyn Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. In that case, you may need antibiotics to treat it. Another common culprit when it comes to odor is a forgotten tampon or a stuck condom, says Dweck. Yes, it’s more common than you think, and your nose will definitely notice it. Don’t worry, your doctor can help fish it out.
You’re Bleeding, and It’s Not Your Period
If you’re randomly spotting, it could just be a hormonal imbalance from a missed birth control pill, though persistent spotting is something to bring up with your doctor as it may be a sign of infection, pregnancy, or a polyp on your cervix. If the bleeding happens after sex or comes with a discharge, it could be an STD so you’ll want your doctor to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia, says Dweck. Of course, if it was just one time after particularly rough sex, it’s probably nothing to worry about, she says.
Feel like there are ants in your pants? A recurrent itch, particularly with discharge, could be a sign of a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, says Minkin. But if you’ve tried treating all that and still can’t get rid of the itch, it could be a simple skin reaction to something like your soap, a feminine wash, or even your detergent. Minkin notes that she often gets an influx of itch-related visits around Christmas when everyone tries out the new bath salts and designer soaps that they got in their stockings.
You’ve Got a Weird Discharge
As you can probably guess by now, an unusual discharge can accompany tons of different issues. But don’t panic if this is a monthly thing; “Most women have a physiological baseline discharge that’s supposed to be there,” says Dweck. But if you notice a change in color, consistency, or odor, bring it up with your doctor.
It Hurts to Pee or Have Sex
Vaginal or vulva pain could be a sign of infection or STD, says Dweck, so you’ll want to check with your doctor if the feeling persists for more than day or two. If the pain just happened once or twice after sex, it may have been from dryness—grab some lube and see if it makes a difference.
You’re Feeling a Little Numb Down Below
Well, that’s certainly not supposed to happen… But Dweck says she often sees this in patients who bike a lot or take frequent indoor cycling classes. If that’s you, make sure to invest in a nice, padded seat and read these tips to avoid cycling pain below the belt.
You’re So Dry
Vaginal dryness may seem like something only older women experience, but it doesn’t discriminate as much as you think. In fact, dryness can creep up after pregnancy or if you’re taking certain medications like antihistamines or antidepressants, says Minkin. If you’re feeling dryer than the Sahara, try an over-the-counter lubricant or see your doctor if it that doesn’t help.
You Feel a Deep Pain
Deeper vaginal pain, especially during sex, could be a sign of endometriosis or an ovarian cyst. Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam or ultrasound to look for the cause.