When it comes to life's big questions, "Why is my vagina sore?" ranks somewhere up there with "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and "Why do you always need scissors to open the plastic casing that new scissors come in?" An inexplicable ache in your ladybits can make it hard to think about anything else — and not only because you can't enjoy all the fun vaginal activities you normally like to engage in, but because vaginal pain can feel lonely, isolating, and scary. What if it's a serious health issue that's making your vagina sore? What if sex hurts permanently now? What if it's something your doctor has never heard of or seen before, and there's no cure, and your only option for the rest of your life will be to abstain completely from genital stimulation, wear sweatpants at all times, and only sit on bolster pillows? (Actually, that sounds kind of comfy and awesome, aside from the vaginal pain part.)
Hold your horses/vaginas there, young lady — while vaginal soreness is indeed unpleasant, it's nothing to be so scared about. And it's definitely not rare. In fact, complaints of vaginal pain account for the vast majority of reasons that women seek professional gynecological treatment. Your achy breaky vagina is not a lost cause, it's nothing to be embarrassed about, and it's definitely nothing your gynecologist hasn't seen before — honestly, you're probably the third person with mysterious pains that your doctor has seen today. Nothing you can tell your doctor will surprise them, so be as honest and as open with them as you can.
So if even the most mundane sex leaves your vagina feeling like a mile of scorched highway road — or if you feel soreness without having any sex at all — check out the list below of seven common sources of vaginal soreness, and then contact your doctor. I swear, you and your vag will be on the mend sooner than you can say "unexplained burning sensation."
1. Yeast Infection
Almost all of us get a yeast infection from time to time — in fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, three quarters of women will experience at least one yeast infection in their life (I don't know who these one quarter of women are who have never had a yeast infection, but I truly wish them well and do not have the overpowering urge to pelt them with yogurt and cloves of garlic). Since you have probably had at least one yeast infection in the past, you may feel like you can rule out a yeast infection as the cause of your vaginal misery, since you aren't experiencing any of that tell-tale chunky white discharge or itchiness.
But it's a myth that all yeast infections involve discharge, or feeling so raw that it burns when you pee — sometimes, yeast infection symptoms can be as simple as irritation at the opening of the vagina, swelling of the vagina, or even just a sore feeling inside the vagina. So if you sex that used to feel fun now feels like you're getting ripped open, don't write off yeast infections just because you don't have discharge — instead, get checked out by your doctor.
Remember how in gym class, some kids would just flinch any time a kickball came anywhere near them? Well, vaginismus is basically the vaginal version of that flinching. A woman with vaginismus (also know as pelvic floor tension myalgia) suffers from involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles that control your vaginal opening. This involuntary tightening can make inserting anything from a large dildo to a junior absorbency tampon a painful ordeal, resulting in mild to severe pain during and after penetration.
For some, vaginismus is a lifelong affliction; for others, it arrives one day, seemingly out of nowhere. So what are the most common vaginismus causes? Vaginismus is usually a reaction to some trauma your vagina has experienced — say, a partner who penetrated you too quickly or too hard in the past.
The good news is the vaginismus is not incurable — once a doctor determines that you have vaginismus, they can help you learn a set of exercises that will allow you to relax your vagina when you want to.
3. Sexually Transmitted Infections
Though soreness in your vagina may make you immediately think of genital herpes, that's actually just one of several STIs that can cause vaginal pain. Chlamydia and trichomoniasis can both cause vaginal soreness, too. There are up to 3 million cases of chlamydia reported in the U.S. every year, and pain during sex is one of the most common symptoms among infected women. And trichomoniasis is just as common, with more than 3 million people reportedly contracting the disease in the U.S. each year — and soreness and itching in the vagina are among the most common trichomoniasis symptoms.
Chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be easily and permanently cured with a doctor's treatment; and while there is no cure for herpes, a doctor can prescribe medication that can help control your outbreaks, and thus give you happier ladyparts overall. So don't just sit there aching and freaking out alone; talk to a pro.
You may remember vulvodynia as "the reason Charlotte had to keep that vagina diary on that one episode of Sex and the City." But despite that episode's many "depressed vagina" jokes, vulvodynia doesn't mean that your vagina is hanging around listening to Morrissey records and writing tortured poetry — rather, women with vulvodynia experience chronic pain in the vulva or vaginal opening, which may feel like sore, raw, or having a stinging or burning quality to it.
The disorder doesn't have a clear cause — vulvodynia can be caused by everything from a past injury to the vagina, to certain allergies (say, to the detergent that you wash your underwear with). If you have vulvodynia, don't feel weird or embarrassed about it: doctors estimate that between three and 18 percent of women experience it at some point in their lifetimes. So if you feel ongoing pain in your lady business, make it your doctor's business, too — they'll have some ideas for treatment that will get you back on your vag in no time.
Though endometriosis is a disorder of the uterus — women with endometriosis experience growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus, which often leads to extreme pain during periods — pain during sex is actually one of the most common symptoms of endometriosis. So if your vag pain is accompanied by heavy, painful periods, it's worth checking in with your doctor about this very common problem.
6. Sex With A Too-Large Penis Or Object
Though we're raised to think that quantity equals quality when it comes to sex, the facts are, sometimes a penis or sex toy is just too darned big — and its sheer size can lead to tearing or burning sensations upon insertion (and afterwards).
No one is supposed to feel sore after penetrative sex, so if your vagina hurts afterwards every time, look into the world of tips for coping with a too-big penis — which range from additional foreplay to additional lube. And if you're using a toy, just go down a size. Believe me, anyone who's judging you for asking for a smaller toy doesn't serve to be let within a square foot of your Jennifer Love Hewitt.
7. Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness isn't just for menopausal women. Women of all ages can suffer from vaginal dryness, and it can be caused by everything from the hormones in their birth control pills, to chemicals in allergy medications and anti-depressants, to allergies to detergent you use to wash your delicates — and that dryness can leave your vagina sore and aching after sex. Luckily, most vaginal dryness is situational; once you switch meds or detergents, you should be back to you regular, juicy self.