Female Genital Sores: 4 Common Causes & What To Do

August 2022
  1. Friction or irritation
  2. Sexually-transmitted infections
  3. Auto-immune diseases
  4. Cancer

Wounds in the vagina or vulva can happen for different reasons,  The most common causes are friction during sexual intercourse, allergy to certain fabrics or sanitary pads, or due to pubic hair removal.

However, vaginal sores can also be a sign of sexually transmitted diseases, such as genital herpes and syphilis, especially when other symptoms appear.

Therefore, when wounds in the vagina or vulva do not heal quickly or if they come with other symptoms such as itchiness, pain, discharge, or bleeding, you should see  doctor for assessment to diagnose the cause of the wound, From there, appropriate treatment will be started.

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The main causes of vaginal sores include:

1. Friction or irritation

Wounds in the vagina or vulva can happen due to friction from tight-fitting underwear or sexual intercourse, or due to pubic hair removal. Irritation from underwear fabric or sanitary pads can also lead to sores, as one of the symptoms related to the allergy is itchiness in the genital area, which can cause wounds.

Learn about other causes of vaginal itching and how to treat it. 

What to do: In these cases, wounds usually heal on their own after a few days. However, to promote healing it’s important to use comfortable clothes and cotton underwear, as well as avoid hair removal and sexual intercourse while the wound present. If no improvement is noted after a few days, we recommend you visit a doctor or gynecologist to see if you should apply an ointment that will help the wound to heal.  

2. Sexually-transmitted infections

Sexually-transmitted infections are some of the main reasons for wounds in the vagina. The most common ones include:

  • Genital Herpes: An infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is contracted through contact with blisters or ulcers in the genitals during sexual contact. It results in redness and small blisters which cause pain, burning, or itchiness. 
  • Syphilis: An infection caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria,which most of the time is transmitted through unprotected sexual contact. Generally, the initial stage happens three weeks after of exposure, with the appearance of a painless ulcer. If left untreated, syphilis can evolve to other stages and become serious;
  • Chancroid: An infection caused by the Haemophilus ducreyi bacteria, which causes multiple painful blisters that secrete pus and blood; 
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum: A rare infection, caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. It usually causes small lumps that become painful, deep wounds that come with buboes;
  • Granuloma inguinale is caused by the Klebsiella granulomatis bacteria, and causes lsubcutaneous nodules or small lumps that evolve to non-painful ulcers. These eventually begin to grow and spread, and can cause great damage to the genital area.

Wounds caused by sexually-transmitted infections typically do not resolve on their own with time, and they usually come with other symptoms such as discharge, bleeding, and pain during intercourse. 

It’s important to remember that the presence of a genital infections pose a risk for HIV infection, as HIV usually enters the body through genital wounds. Therefore, ensure you prevent an HIV infection by using a condom and completing treatment for you STI as recommended by your doctor.

Read more about the most common STIs and how they are treated. 

What to do: In these cases, it’s important to see your doctor or gynecologist for assessment to identify the infection that caused the wound. This will guide treatment, which can be done with antibiotics or antivirals. It’s important that you advise your sexual partner to also be treated, even if he or she does not show symptoms of the disease.

3. Auto-immune diseases

Some auto-immune diseases can also cause wounds in the genital area, such as  Behçet’s disease, Reiter’s syndrome, lichen planus, erythema multiforme, genital ulcers, pemphigus, pemphigoids, dermatitis herpetiformis, or Linear IgA bullous disease. These diseases are rare, and they usually happen in teenagers, adults,  or elderly women. They may also cause ulcers in the mouth, anus, and other regions.

The vaginal wounds caused by auto-immune diseases can also occur with other symptoms, such as fever, weakness, weight loss, damage to other organs (e.g. kidneys), and compromised blood flow. These symptoms can be worrying and should be investigated and treated by a doctor, rheumatologist or dermatologist.

What to do: If you have an auto-immune disease, or if you have a family history of an auto-immune disease, you will need to report any new wounds to your doctor or gynecologist immediately, so that medication can be taken to regulate immunity. Typically prescribed medication includes oral corticosteroids or immunosuppressants, as well as topical ointments applied directly to the wound. Auto-immune diseases can also lead to hypersensitivity, and so we recommend avoiding the use of irritating products and avoid very spicy food that has a strong color and odor. 

4. Cancer

Cancer is a rare cause of vaginal wounds. Cancer-related sores generally causes itchiness, foul smell, and secretions, and they are more common in elderly women. The chance of a vaginal wound becoming cancer is greater when caused by the HPV virus. 

See the other HPV symptoms you should look out for. 

What to do: If you know you have HPV, consult a doctor or a gynecologist as soon as you find a wound with discharge, so that a biopsy can be done. If confirmed, treatment for cancer can be started, which usually involves the removal of the affected area through surgery, as well as completing rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

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Written and updated by Daisy Oliveira - Registered Nurse, on August of 2022.


  • MINISTÉRIO DA SAÚDE. Protocolo Clínico e Diretrizes Terapêuticas (PCDT). 2015. Available on: <http://bvsms.saude.gov.br/bvs/publicacoes/protocolo_clinico_diretrizes_terapeutica_atencao_integral_pessoas_infeccoes_sexualmente_transmissiveis.pdf>. Access in 08 Oct 2020
  • FEDERAÇÃO BRASILEIRA DAS ASSOCIAÇÕES DE GINECOLOGIA E OBSTETRÍCIA . Manual de Orientação Ginecologia Oncológica. 2010. Available on: <https://www.febrasgo.org.br/images/arquivos/manuais/Manuais_Novos/Manual_Ginecologia_Oncologica.pdf>. Access in 08 Oct 2020
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  • INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GYNECOLOGICAL CÂNCER,. Oncology Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Vulvar Câncer.. 2017. Available on: <http://www.esgo.org/media/2019/01/ESGO_Vulvar-Cancer_A4PT.pdf>. Access in 08 Oct 2020
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