Vaginal Pain: 8 Common Causes & What to Do

March 2022
  1. Tight clothes 
  2. Pregnancy
  3. Allergic reactions
  4. UTI
  5. STI
  6. Cysts
  7. Vaginal dryness
  8. Vaginismus

Vaginal pain is a common discomfort and it generally does not indicate any serious condition. Most of the time, it is just a consequence of using very tight clothes or an allergy to a condom or soap. However, when vaginal pain is frequent, does not improve with time or occurs with other symptoms, it can also be a sign of more serious health problems, such as an STI or cysts. 

If you are experiencing pain or burning with urination, skin redness in the area, swelling, wounds, lumps, or bleeding, it’s important to see your doctor for assessment and treatment as indicated.

The main causes for vaginal pain are:

1. Tight clothes 

Wearing tight clothes is usually the main cause of vaginal pain. Clothes that are too tight and made of synthetic materials can decrease airflow to the genital area, which increases the temperature and moisture. Hot and wet skin is the perfect breeding ground for fungi and bacteria.  

What to do: It is advised that you wear looser clothes that are made of breathable fabrics, and wear cotton underwear. Sleeping without underwear is also beneficial as it allows for more airflow in the genital area for longer periods of time. If your symptoms do not improve with changes to clothing, you should see your doctor for assessment.

2. Pregnancy

Vaginal pain during pregnancy is common and does not present a risk to the mother or the baby. It is most common in the third trimester which is when the baby’s weight within the uterus starts putting pressure on the mother’s organs and starts to get closer to the vaginal canal.

What to do: This is a normal, expected finding, and therefore treatment is not required. However, if the pain persists and occurs with other symptoms, it’s important to visit your obstetrician so that she can examine you.  

3. Allergic reactions

Some women have increased sensitivity to some products, such as soap, fabric softener, menstrual pads, toilet paper, or some types of condom. The usual symptoms of allergic reactions are swelling, redness, itchiness, pain, or burning in the vagina. 

What to do: it’s important to identify the cause of the allergy and avoid using any product that may trigger a reaction. Depending on your symptom intensity, the doctor may prescribe medication like topical anti-inflammatories to use on the affected region.

4. Urinary tract infections

Women are likely to have more than one urinary tract infection, or UTI, in their lifetime. This is because the female urethra is short and the vagina and the anus are close together, which favors the migration and proliferation of fungi and bacteria. UTIs generally happen with inadequate hygiene or due to tight clothes, which don’t allow for much air-flow.

When you have a urinary infection, you usually feel like you need to urinate but not much urine comes out. You may also feel pain, burning, or itchiness in the vagina. Learn more about the most common UTI symptoms and how it may present differently in men.

What to do: As soon as you notice the first symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you should see your doctor who will order a urine test to identify the agent that is causing the infection. Once identified, treatment can be initiated. It is generally done with antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or ciprofloxacin. Learn about other medications that are typically prescribed as well as some natural remedies you can use to complement your treatment plan

5. Sexually transmitted infections 

Sexually transmitted infections or STIs are diseases caused by microorganisms that are spread through unprotected sexual intercourse. Your risk for catching an STI is higher if you have more than one partner during the same time period. Common symptoms of an STI include redness, small wounds, lumps or warts in the genital region, burning sensation when urinating, vaginal discharge, and pain. 

What to do: If you have symptoms of an STI and recently engaged in risky behavior, you should see your doctor for assessment. While performing an assessment, he or she will likely collect a specimen for lab analysis to confirm an infection. Usually, treatment is done through antibiotics, antifungal medication, or antivirals and depends on the underlying infection. 

Even though some STDs are curable with treatment, it’s important to use a condom during sexual intercourse and to avoid intercourse with more than one partner.

6. Cysts

Some cysts can change the anatomy of the vagina and lead to pain. This happens with ovarian cysts, which are pockets full of liquid that form inside or around the ovary. Learn more about the symptoms associated with ovarian cysts and how they are treated.

Some vaginal cysts can also cause pain, such as Bartholin’s cyst and Skene duct cyst, which are cysts formed in glands that are located in the vagina.  

What to do: If you notice bleeding that occurs outside the menstrual period, pain during sexual intercourse, difficulty getting pregnant, late periods or vaginal pain, you should see your doctor, as these symptoms may be a sign of a cysts.

The treatment prescribed by the doctor will differ depending on the size of the cyst. Treatment can vary with simple approaches, like antibiotics, to more complex approaches like surgical interventions to remove the cyst, or even the uterus.

7. Vaginal dryness

Vaginal dryness happens due to decreased estrogen production, which is a female hormone that commonly becomes lower during menopause. When the production of mucous decreases, you may feel vaginal pain, generally during sexual intercourse.

What to do: To decrease the discomfort caused by a dry vagina, you can use lubricants to ease sexual intercourse, use vaginal moisturizers, or even undergo hormone therapy under doctor supervision.

8. Vaginismus

Vaginal pain and extreme difficulty penetrating can be caused by vaginismus, which is a rare disease. Although it is not very well known it is thought to be caused by physical factors, genital diseases or psychological trauma (from sexual abuse, traumatic labor, or previous surgical procedures, for example).  

What to do: In order to find out if you have vaginismus, you should see a gynecologist for assessment and guidance. There is treatment available, which can be done with medication and psychological therapy which can help improve sexual intercourse.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in March 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Sheila Sedicias - Gynecologist in January 2021.
Medical review:
Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
Physician graduated in Mastology and Gynecology by UFPE in 2008 and member no. 17459 of CRM-PE, Brazil.