Why Is My Vagina Itchy After Sex? The Common Causes of Vaginal Irritation, and How To Fix It

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We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: Why your vagina may be itchy after you have sex.

Q: This is embarrassing, but I feel like my vagina is always ... itchy. I've been to the ob/gyn and I don't have any stds, but it seems like after sex I'm always itchy a few days after. What is going on? Is there anything I can do to decrease my itchiness? Do you think it means something is off in my body?

A: Ah, vaginas! They feel so good until suddenly ... they don’t anymore. There are a number of reasons why your ladyparts might be feeling a bit off after sex. Let’s check out some of the most common ones.

Common Culprit #1: You Could Have A Latex Allergy

If you’re using condoms, chances are they are made from latex rubber (that’s why they call ‘em rubbers after all). Around one to three percent of folks in the U.S. are thought to be allergic to latex, but that number goes up to around 10 percent for people who regularly come into contact with the stuff, (like healthcare workers who use latex gloves daily and the people who manufacture it). The question on everyone’s mind (or maybe just mine) after that data tidbit is ... does that mean you're more likely to develop an allergy to latex from having lots and lots of condom-ed sex? Researchers don’t know, so if you’re listening grad students, get that study on — I’m sure you’ll have no problem with recruitment.

The more mild symptoms of a latex allergy can include itching, red skin and hives, or rash, but if you’re really allergic, you can have difficulty breathing or even go into anaphylactic shock. So pay attention to your body while you’re boning, and stop if you experience any of those symptoms — then talk to your doctor.

Solution: Try Non-Rubbers

If you think latex condoms might be the culprit, pick up some latex-free condoms and see if the switch makes a difference. Polyurethane condoms are available pretty much wherever latex ones are sold. Just like latex condoms, they have been shown to block both sperm and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and user research shows that the fellas really dig ‘em.

A word of caution, however: Because polyurethane is less stretchy than latex, some research shows that these condoms are slightly more likely to break or slip off, so be aware of that. Lambskin condoms are also on the market for those more, um, vintage gals amongst us, but be warned: while lambskin is a proven contraceptive, it is more porous than latex or polyurethane, and the microscopic holes in the material are actually larger than some STIs, including HIV.

Try: Durex Avanti Bare RealFeel Non-Latex Condoms, $19, Amazon

Possible Culprit #2: You’re Not Wet Enough

If you aren’t wet enough during sex, you can actually be getting microabrasions inside your vagina while you’re knockin’ boots. If you’re really dry, this will be painful, but if you’re just a tad bit under-lubricated, the microabrasions can make you feel itchy afterwards. Even worse? These tiny holes in your skin more easily let in all the things you don’t want, like STIs.

Vaginal dryness can occur for a number of reasons. Your body could be having trouble creating its natural lubrication (something that happens to a lot of women on the Pill or on antidepressants) or you could just be not that into what’s going on between your, ahem, sheets.

Solution: Find Your Inner Slip’n Slide

If your vertical smile is feeling a bit parched, don’t worry! There are lots of ways you can turn that frown upside down. While vaginal dryness could end up being something you need to discuss with your ob/gyn, there are also some easy home remedies.

Use Lube

Go to your local sex shop and purchase a bottle of personal lubricant (or order some online if you’re shy). Whether you’re using it with a partner, on a vibrator, or on your fingers, lube will help you get into that sexy slippery sentiment. Just remember to check the label to make sure that your selection is condom-friendly (that means water- or silicone-based, not oil-based). Also make sure the lube doesn’t have glycerine (which is close to sugar) in it, because sugar can cause yeast infections (more on them below...hold your horses).

Try: Shibari Premium Water-Based Lubricant, $10, Amazon

Listen To Your Body

Give your body time to get excited. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “The basic conflict between men and women, sexually, is that men are like firemen. To men, sex is an emergency, and no matter what we’re doing we can be ready in two minutes. Women, on the other hand, are like fire. They’re very exciting, but the conditions have to be exactly right for it to occur.” Pay attention to your body and don’t rush into anything before all of you is good and ready, even if your partner is chomping at the bit. Sex is not a race!

Communicate With Your Partner

Communication is the best lubrication. Working lube into your sex routine can be a bit complicated, since you have to really pay attention to what’s going on down there and stop when things are starting to feel abrasive to rectify the situation. But remember that sex is supposed to be fun, and if you’re hurting, you may not be having as much fun as you could be. Further, many writers on the subject of inadequate vaginal lubrication have noted that communication with your partner can make you feel more relaxed and intimately connected ... which is really sexy and can turn you on, making you wetter! So talk it out and make sure to keep things well-lubricated.

Possible Culprit #3: You’re Unbalanced

No, not unhinged — unbalanced! (Did you really think I was going to hysteria-shame you? Honestly, I’m hurt.)

Your reproductive canal is actually pretty good at taking care of itself — in fact, vaginas are self-cleaning! It's home to a bunch of microorganisms that work symbiotically with your anatomy to make sure everything stays pH-balanced all up in there. However, your vagina is not all-powerful and can still get knocked out of whack (where whack is anything other than in the 4 - 5 pH range).

Your bits can get unbalanced by a number of things you probably encounter on a regular basis, including menstruation (because blood is pH neutral), tampons that have been inside you for too long, and diet (including sugar and gluten, which make you more acidic). Antibiotics can knock out the good flora while they’re destroying whatever unwanted bacteria you’re taking them to vanquish. Finally, semen is very basic, and can push you right out of balance, because Mother Nature is a cruel mistress. And the same goes for lots of soaps, not to mention nearly all vaginal “cleaners” or douches you find in the oddly-named Feminine Aisle of your local drug store.

So, what do you do to get your netherbits back on track?

Solution: Rebalance

First, you're going to want to go to the doctor or buy an at-home pH test to find out whether your vagina is too acidic or too basic.

Try: HealthyWiser pH Test, $11, Amazon

Too Acidic?

If your vagina is too acidic, it means the conditions for the good flora in your vagina are overly perfect (you overachiever, you!) and that their numbers are expanding rapidly, growing into an overgrown garden of acidic delight. Symptoms include itchy or red vulva and vagina, vaginal discharge described as either “watery thin” or “curd-like thick” (you’re welcome), and discomfort when you have sex or pee.

So how do you wage population control on this overexcited party in your panties? Just increase the pH of your vagina back to its normal levels. You can do this by introducing more basic things into your privates — most commonly, by using baking soda douches or suppositories. In this case, you want to be sure not to use over-the-counter yeast infection medications, and consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Too Basic?

Whose vagina are you calling basic? Well, it's a thing. If your vagina gets too basic, its natural defenses against the big bad world are weakened, allowing unwelcome bacteria to move on in. These freeloaders can cause yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. If in addition to an itchy vulva and vagina you have irregular discharge (often described as “cottage cheese-like," because apparently all vaginal discharge descriptions should remind you distressingly of something you once wanted to eat but never will again), you might have one of these bacterial pests.

There are over-the-counter remedies for yeast infections, like over-the-counter creams, and home remedies including yogurt and garlic, apple cider vinegar, or boric acid suppositories. You can also ask your doctor for a one-day antibiotic (or as I call it, the magic pill). Bacterial vaginosis can go away on its own, but if it doesn’t, talk to your doctor to get treated.

Because the vagina struggles? They are real. Remember, I’m not a doctor — and even if I was, nothing good ever happened from trying to diagnose stressful and nuanced health problems over the internet. Find an ob/gyn you like and talk them about your itchy challenges. Good luck!

Images: HBO; Giphy