6 Common Vaginal Health Issues Explained, From Weird Discharge To Awful Itching

In an ideal world, everyone born with a vagina would get an owner's manual as soon as they were able to read. Unfortunately, we live a world that instead opts to waste our precious childhoods teaching us about cats and their hats instead of guiding us through the ins and outs of our complex, amazing lady biz. Some of us come across great guides to our vaginas later in life, but many of us don't — and even those of us who devote ourselves to studying the vaginal arts don't necessarily know or understand everything that happens in our undercarriage.

Which is probably why coming down with even the most common vagina problems can be so scary. Vagina problems aren't in any way freakier,"dirtier" or more dangerous than, say, sinus problems; but many of us tend to jump to terrified conclusions about every bump and burning sensation in our thunder down under, simply because we don't always know what's going on down there. The only way to know for sure what's going on is to talk with your gyno, of course — but a lot of us get so scared, even taking that step is hard.

So please consider this article to be that push to get you into you doctor's waiting room the next time you feel or see something unusual in your vag. It's not a substitute for professional help; rather, it's a reminder that, like any part of our bodies, things can go wrong with our vaginas, but the things that go wrong with our vaginas are totally normal. So read on for six common vagina problems that most of us experience at one time or another in our lives.

1. Your Vagina Is Itchy

What It Feels Like: Itchy. So very, very itchy. So itchy that you've forgotten what you used to do all day, who you used to be or who the people you once loved were; all you know is that now you are a single-minded scratch machine, devoted to finding private places twhere you can hide and itch itch itch at your cursed vulva. It feels like you squatted onto a piece of poison oak. Oh my god, wait, did that happen the last time you went hiking?!

What It Could Be: An itchy vagina is often a symptom of vaginitis, which is an umbrella term for a few different vaginal infections, including yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. BV is often also accompanied by gray discharge and a sour odor, while yeast infection symptoms often involve a thick discharge that is described as "cottage cheese-like" (delicious?). Neither of these are STIs, so don't listen to anyone who tries to shame you by telling you otherwise (though again, you shouldn't feel ashamed if you accidentally catch an STI, either — you don't feel ashamed when you catch the flu, right?). It could also be an infection of trichomoniasis, an incredibly common STI that may also cause odor, discharge and overall vulva pain.

Luckily, these infections aren't serious, and can be easily treated — BV and trichomoniasis with a prescription medication, and yeast infections with either prescription medication from a doctor or the home or over-the-counter remedy of your choice. And sometimes, a persistently itchy vag isn't a sign of any medical problem at all — the skin of your vulva could also be inflamed by a new clothing detergent or body wash that you've started using.

But you'll need to see your doctor to know for sure — so just go already, OK?

2. Your Vagina Hurts When You Pee

What It Feels Like: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh! How did you get 10,000 paper cuts all over your poor vulva? What did you ever do to deserve this? What did your poor vulva do to deserve this? She never hurt anyone! She just wanted to make people happy! And now here you two are: she feels like she's on fire, and you're bracing yourself against the bathroom walls so that you don't scream while you pee.

What It Could Be: When a normal pee feels like you just doused your lady biz in sriracha, most of our minds jump immediately to an STI inflammation. Which is quite possible — chlamydia, trichomoniasis and gonorrhea, as well as open herpes sores, can all result in painful urination, so if you're unsure of your STI status, getting tested is a great first step to finding out what is really hurting your lady-miss.

But despite all our cultural snickering about "burning when you pee," there are other things that can cause a fire down below. Yeast infections that have made your vulva dried and raw can make urination painful, as can urinary tract infections. None of these problems are life-threatening, but all of them can cause you a lot of pain and health problems if left totally untreated, and all of them can be improved or cured with medical intervention. So don't just wait for it to go away.

3. Your Vagina Feels Dry

What It Feels Like: Scratchy and parched. The moisture levels in your vagina fluctuate over the course of the day and the month, especially depending on what activities you're doing (ahem)(hubba hubba)(saucy whistle)(suggestive eyebrow arch). But right now, your vagina feels unusually dry — it's especially noticeable when you masturbate or have sex, but you might even feel dry and irritated as you go about your regular, unsexy day. And that's not right. Your vagina shouldn't be getting chafed while you merge Excel spreadsheets. it's your right as an American! Or something!

What It Could Be: If you're too young for the problem to be menopause-related, the issue is probably something surprisingly simple. Many antihistamines that you take for colds or allergies can have a drying effect on your vagina, as can certain clothing detergents and body washes.

So try switching up to detergents and soaps designed for sensitive skin, see if you can switch up your allergy meds, make sure you're getting turned on enough before you try to have sex, and if none of that works...you know where this is going, right? Talk to the damned doctor, lady. If you won't do it for me, do it for your vag.

4. Your Vagina Hurts When You Have Sex

What It Feels Like: Raw and irritated, possibly with some sharp pains thrown in. Sexual activities that you have performed — and enjoyed — in the past suddenly feel excruciating. You might feel like your vagina is getting ripped apart whenever your partner penetrates it. Which is definitely no way to live.

What It Could Be: All the previously noted infections (yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis) and STIs (gonorrhea, chlaymidia, herpes and trichomonoiasis) can result in painful, swollen genitals, which can result in painful, horrible sex.

But there are also reasons sex could suddenly become painful that have nothing to do with an infection, sexually transmitted or otherwise. Some women with endometriosis report sexual pain. There is also vulvodynia, a chronic pain disorder that can cause discomfort anywhere on the vulva, as well as a disorder called vaginismus, which is an involuntary contraction of the vaginal muscles that can make sex incredibly painful. And if your vagina is dry from something else (like the aforementioned antihistamines), that can lead to painful sex, too.

The good news? Every single one of these problems can be cured or improved with professional medical treatment (are you starting to see a pattern here?).

5. Your Vagina Smells...Off

What It Smells Like: Sour, pungent, "fishy." All our vaginas have a natural scent, one that changes with our menstrual cycle, becoming stronger and weaker over the course of the month. But sometimes, our vaginas emit a smell that seems like it should be coming out of the alley behind a diner, not out of a healthy human body. What's the deal down there? Did you leave a half-eaten sandwich in your pants and forget about it?

What It Could Be: Bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis are often accompanied by a sour smell that is commonly described as "fish-like," and yeast infections can sometimes give off a yeasty, bread-like smell. BV and trichomoniasis are both easily cured by prescription meds, and yeast infections cured by the method of your choice.

So don't try to ignore it (and definitely don't use scented products to cover up the smell! Sometimes they can actually irritate your genitals further). A doctor won't be grossed out or embarrassed if you come in with some funny-smelling junk — seriously, they teach them that in med school.

6. Your Vagina Is Emitting Unusual Fluids

What It Looks Like: Gray, yellow, green or chunky. Odds are, you're familiar with what your normal discharge looks like (it's that stuff that is sometimes caked across the crotch of your panties). As previously noted, the quantity and color of healthy discharge varies throughout the month. It can be any shade from clear to white, and it can be sparse or plentiful.

It's not only healthy to have normal discharge, the discharge itself actually plays a key role in your vaginal health — it helps flush out bacteria, dead cells and anything else that could bring harm to your Pleasuredome. But now, your discharge is off — super thick and chunky, or gray, and possibly accompanied by an unusual smell.

What It Could Be: Your mind probably immediately went to STIs on this one. And it's true, a number of STIs can cause discharge — chlamydia (high volume of discharge, sometimes accompanied by a burning feeling); gonorrhea (yellow, sometimes accompanied by itching, burning, and overall genital pain); and trichomonasis (yellow or green, frothy, sometimes accompanied by an unusual smell) are all STIs that sometimes have discharge as a symptom. But as noted above, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis also have discharge as part of their cavalcade of symptoms. So if weird stuff is leaking out of your ol' Marcia Gay Harden, don't get too scared to talk to a doctor. Literally every one of the ailments I just listed can be treated with medication, usually quite simply!

In fact, almost all sexual health ailments can be treated quite simply by a trained medical professional. So if something goes wrong with your junk, know that your life isn't ruined — see a doctor, and you'll be back on your feet/ vag in no time.

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