9 Types Of Genital Warts & Other Bumps, Decoded
Guys, there's good news: a pimple, wart, or lump in your genital area doesn't automatically mean you have genital herpes or cancer. There are many possibilities for its cause, some of which aren't nearly as well-known as they should be. However, just in case you get a fright next time you undress for the shower, here's a primer of nine lumps and bumps around the female genitals, both the vulva and vagina, to be aware of so you can react appropriately.
If you aren't in the regular habit of checking out your vagina for health reasons, this is a good time to start. Knowing what the normal status of your vagina and vulva is, including color, sensitive bits, and other parts unique to you, will make it easier to track if anything appears anomalous later on. And if you find a growth of any kind, even if you're relatively sure it's a pimple, it's always a good idea to have it checked out, in case it's something that needs different treatment.
If you're uncomfortable going to your usual GP with these woes, find a specialist, like a Planned Parenthood or center for sexual health at a local hospital, and ask them for help (or, honestly, find a new GP you are comfortable talking about sex with). Prepare appropriately for the appointment: know as much as you can about when the lump appeared, whether it's grown, where on your cycle you are, and what other symptoms have accompanied it.
So go forth and have your lumps poked by doctors, ladies. But before you panic about any of them, here's a primer on what those bumps might be and why you should keep up-to-date on them.
1. Genital Warts
What They Look Like: Small, skin-colored bumps, sometimes with what's called a cauliflower-like surface.
What They Mean: Genital warts are caused by types 6 and 11 of the human papilloma virus (HPV), for which there's now a vaccine in women. They're generally spread via sexual contact, are contagious, and are the most common STD in the world. They can appear on either the vagina or the vulva, plus other areas around the genitals or upper thighs, and can be treated via creams or other more abrasive methods, so go get them checked out by a gynecologist or doctor.
2. Period-Related Pimples
What They Look Like: White-headed pimples.
What They Mean: Pimples in your genital area may actually be related to the onset of your period, and tend to be caused by infected hair follicles due to bacterial growth around your vagina. They aren't caused by an STD, and shouldn't be treated with the same scrubs or washes you use on the pimples on your face. A warm bath and good hygiene when touching them (and no picking) will help them heal. (Not shaving or waxing will also minimize your risk of getting them in the first place.)
What They Look Like: Small yellow bumps or globules that feel vaguely solid.
What They Mean: There are a few different cyst types that can occur in the genital area in women. Sebaceous cysts anywhere are harmless build-ups of fluid caused when an oil gland is blocked, while Bartholin's gland cysts form on the labia, and Skene's duct cysts appear around the urethra. Cysts don't usually present a problem unless they get infected, so this condition is one to watch very carefully with the help of your medical provider to decide what the best option is.
4. Herpes Sores
What They Look Like: Red, painful, and possibly itchy sores.
What They Mean: Genital herpes (herpes simplex type-2) is a sexually transmitted disease that affects one in six Americans. (Herpes simplex type-1 is oral herpes, which causes cold sores around the mouth.) Sores generally heal in a few weeks, but may well flare up again in the future, so it's important to practice very safe sex and to see a doctor or gynecologist to help you with managing symptoms using topical creams and oral medication. (Sorry, there's no cure yet.)
5. Ingrown Hairs
What They Look Like: Red, inflamed pimples.
What They Mean: Generally these occur in people who shave their pelvic area, and occur because hair regrowth somehow goes wrong and develops as ingrowing hair. If this does occur, medical advice recommends that you don't shave again for a while, watch the hairs for signs of infection, and be careful of the potential irritants caused by your shaving methods and materials.
6. Dermatitis Sores
What They Look Like: Sores or scratches accompanied by itching and discomfort.
What They Mean: This is actually quite rare: dermatitis is much more likely to cause a rash than result in any sores, which would probably come about from aggressive itching. Dermatitis of the genitals can result from skin irritants of many different kinds, from shower gels and hygiene products to particular types of underwear. Treating it will likely involve topical creams, an oral antihistamine, and/or recommendations about changing certain aspects of your routine to narrow down the irritant.
7. Molluscum Contagiosum
What They Look Like: Small, waxy lumps, often with an indentation in the top.
What They Mean: Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious skin condition, often spread by sex (but not always). They're not harmful, though they tend to pop up more in people whose immune systems are compromised. Some people choose not to do anything about them, but you can have them removed by a specialist or by prescription medication, which may be a good option if your particular symptoms include itchiness around the lumps.
What They Look Like: Small clusters of red and/or purple blood vessels in a lump, looking a bit like a cherry.
What They Mean: Angiomas are small skin growths with broken blood vessels that can look highly alarming on first glance. However, they're entirely benign. They don't usually occur on the vulva or vagina, but it's not a bad sign if they do, and it's entirely your choice to have them removed, which is done via freezing, excision, or shaving off.
9. Vulval Cancer
What They Look Like: A lump, open sore, or bleeding mole, possibly accompanied by persistent itching, dark and raised patches of skin, bleeding discharge, and pain or tenderness.
What They Mean: Before you freak out, vulval cancer is exceptionally rare. In the UK, doctors only see new cases on average once every seven years, roughly 3.7 out of every 100,000 women. It's far more likely that a lump is due to other causes, so your first step shouldn't be to leap to worst-case scenarios. Vulval cancer is often treated using surgery, plus radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and it is serious, so if you have doubts, please get yourself checked out immediately.
Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.
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