What Causes a Sore Vagina?

woman hand holding her crotch suffering from pain

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There are many potential causes for pain in the vaginal area. In actuality, the exterior area that includes the female genitals is called the vulva. Most people refer to this collective area as the vagina. Anatomically speaking though, the vagina is the passage that connects the vulva to the uterus. It’s inside of the body.

Both the vulva and vagina can become painful and sore for a variety of reasons. Soreness can occur because of irritation, infection, hormone changes, medical conditions, and more.

Often, pain in the vaginal or vulva area is nothing serious. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore vaginal soreness. Some causes of soreness require medical treatment. 

Infection

Infections are a common cause of pain in the female genital area.

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection is a fungal infection that can cause pain and itching around the vulva and vaginal opening. It can also cause vaginal soreness. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain during sex
  • Pain when peeing
  • Discharge that is thick and sometimes smelly

Some people are more prone to develop yeast infections, including people who:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have a compromised immune system
  • Have diabetes
  • Use hormonal birth control
  • Are using or recently stopped using antibiotics 

Poor hygiene and bad habits, such as not quickly changing out of sweaty workout clothes, can also lead to yeast infections. 

Doctors typically treat yeast infections with antifungal medications.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis is another type of infection that affects the vagina. When the bacterial balance in the vagina is off, it can cause BV. Symptoms may include:

  • Pungent, fishy vaginal odor
  • Vaginal discharge that may appear grey, white, or foamy
  • Itchiness 
  • Pain when urinating 

Some people don’t have symptoms.

Experts don’t really know what causes BV, but some risk factors include:

  • Frequent douching
  • Having multiple or new sex partners

Doctors can treat BV with medications.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections may also produce vaginal pain. Some examples include:

Symptoms of these STIs may include itching, burning, and vaginal soreness. Herpes also causes painful sores. 

If you suspect you have an STI, talk to your doctor. It’s essential to treat this type of infection promptly to reduce the risk of passing it on or developing complications.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infections can be very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, they’re also very common. UTIs happen when bacteria enter the urinary tract. Symptoms include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • A feeling of pressure in the pelvic area
  • An urgent need to urinate
  • Smelly urine that may be cloudy

A UTI can also cause painful sex. It may feel as if the vaginal area is hurting. However, this type of infection does not directly affect the vagina or vulva. 

Treatment typically involves antibiotics. However, because there is a risk of antibiotic resistance in people with frequent UTIs, doctors may recommend a wait-and-see approach. Drinking lots of fluids may help flush out harmful bacteria.

Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is a type of chronic pain lasting more than three months that affects the vulva. Symptoms may include:

  • Stinging or burning sensation 
  • Itching

As of right now, there’s no definitive known cause of this condition. However, genetics, hormones, or nerve damage may play a part. 

Treatment may involve a combination of therapies, including topical creams, nerve blocks, and surgery.

Bartholin’s Cyst

A Bartholin’s cyst occurs when the Bartholin glands on the labia become blocked. Sometimes the blockage can result in an infection. Most of the time the blockage will resolve on its own. If there’s an infection you may need treatment. Blockage can occur for a host of reasons, including infection. 

A cyst that’s not infected may show up as a painless lump. It might swell in size and feel uncomfortable. An infected cyst will be painful and make it difficult to perform everyday activities like sitting without discomfort. 

At-home treatment is usually adequate for most Bartholin’s cysts. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help with swelling. If you have an infected Bartholin's cyst, you may require drainage and antibiotics.

Endometriosis

In people with endometriosis, the lining of the uterus forms outside of the uterus. It’s a painful condition, but in some cases, it may not produce symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Menstrual pain
  • Pain during sex 
  • Pain when making a bowel movement 
  • Bloating
  • Pain when peeing 

It may feel as if there is pain in the vagina. 

There is no cure for endometriosis. Treatment usually involves the management of symptoms. Common treatments include NSAIDs and hormonal birth control. Surgery to remove scar tissue can also help relieve symptoms, but it’s not a guarantee. 

A hysterectomy is another option, but again, it’s not guaranteed to eliminate all symptoms. 

Pelvic Floor Problems

Issues such as pelvic floor dysfunction may cause a person to experience vaginal pain, particularly during sex. If you have pelvic floor dysfunction, you cannot properly control your pelvic floor muscles, making it difficult to control urination and defecation.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty having a bowel movement
  • Regularly experiencing incomplete bowel movements
  • Incontinence 

Potential causes include:

  • Injuries to the pelvic area
  • Regularly straining to go to the bathroom 
  • Pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Complications from surgery

Treatment may involve physical therapy, medications to ease bowel movements, and relaxation techniques.

Vigorous Sex

Having rough sex can contribute to vaginal soreness. It can also lead to chafing around the vulvar area. 

Irritation or Allergy 

Irritation like chafing and allergies can cause pain in the vulvar area and around the vaginal opening. Potential sources of allergens include:

  • Laundry detergent
  • Soaps 
  • Certain bath products
  • Spermicide
  • Latex condoms, if you’re allergic to latex
  • Menstrual pads and tampons 

Shaving the genital area can also cause irritation and discomfort, especially when the hair begins to grow back. Likewise, waxing the genital area can produce temporary soreness. 

Treatment for irritation or allergy involves immediately stopping the use of the offending product. Anti-itch creams may also help. Just be sure to use a cream that’s meant for the genital area to avoid further irritation.

Menopause

Vaginal pain can also occur because of hormonal changes during menopause. The vagina may become drier and tighter, causing sex to become painful. Lubrication can help with this.

Vaginismus

Vaginismus is a condition that causes spasms of the vaginal opening. It can make it difficult to have penetrative sex. It can also cause pain.

People may develop vaginismus as a response to trauma. It can happen because a person is nervous about having sex. But it can also occur during menopause.

Treatment can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the use of vaginal dilators, and relaxation strategies. 

Easing Vaginal Soreness

If your vulva or vagina is sore, you can do a few things to ease discomfort:

  • Avoid tight, restrictive pants or underwear
  • Stop using products that are causing irritation or allergies
  • Temporarily stop having sex
  • Take a warm sitz bath

However, if your symptoms don’t go away, it’s important to see a doctor. Conditions like STIs require treatment and won’t go away on their own. If the pain results from something like endometriosis, a doctor can help you manage pain and other symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

If your symptoms are bothering you and don’t go away, make an appointment to see a healthcare professional.

Other reasons to see a doctor for vaginal soreness include:

  • Having pain accompanied by bleeding
  • Having a recent new sexual partner 
  • Having a fever
  • Having symptoms and being post-menopausal 
  • Being pregnant
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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Pain down there? 5 reasons your vagina hurts. Updated December 27, 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaginal candidiasis. Updated November 10, 2020.

  3. Arkansas Department of Health. Bacterial vaginosis (BV).

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Urinary tract infections. Updated March 7, 2020.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Vulvodynia. Updated July 3, 2018.

  6. Michigan Medicine. Bartholin gland cyst. Updated July 17, 2020.

  7. ULCA Health. Endometriosis.

  8. Cleveland Clinic. Pelvic floor dysfunction. Updated May 26, 2020.

  9. Michigan Medicine. Vaginal rashes and sores. Updated February 26, 2020.

  10. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vulvitis.

  11. The North American Menopause Society. Vaginal discomfort.

  12. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Disorders of the vulva: common causes of vulvar pain, burning, and itching. Updated February 2019.

  13. University of Utah Health. When should a woman see a doctor for problems down below. Updated November 13, 2018.