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Have you ever had a bump on your vulva and been too scared or ashamed to ask your friend, parent, or doctor about it? You’re not alone, according to research, even though young people account for half of new cases, only about 12% get tested for STIs. That means a whole bunch of us are nervously twiddling our thumbs and Googling Web MD for a diagnosis.
But, aside from addressing that itch, weird smell or weepy pimple (we see you, you’re good!) we want to give you the confidence to dive on in and get it checked, because your future self will thank you for it. Why? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. undiagnosed STIs cause 24,000 women to become infertile each year. And that friends, is a bluddy gewd reason to keep your bits ‘n bobs in order.
But today, we’re assuming that you’ve had it checked, it’s defo not an STI, but instead you’re dealing with an average Joe, pimple on your genitals.
Now, before we dive in, not all bumps and lumps are created equal. And also, anatomically, we got you boo. While you may be googling pimples on your vagina, it’s important to recognise that your outer lips and skin around your va-jay-jay is actually called your vulva.
We asked Dr. Clare Boerma, Associate Medical Director at Family Planning NSW and Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN, and women’s health expert to give us the inside story on all things bumps in and around the giney.
What are the common causes of bumps on the VULVA?
While these little nuisances can be caused by all manner of things, by Dr. Jessica says, they’re mostly, caused by chemical irritation from detergents or clothing, shaving, or excessive exfoliation.
Dr. Clare advises that there are lots of causes of bumps around the entrance to the vagina (on the vulva, which is the external part of the female genitalia). “Skin conditions that occur elsewhere on the body can also occur on the groin and as well as on the genitals, such as skin tags, moles, dermatitis, and skin cancers,” says Dr Clare, “Bumps can often be due to ingrown hairs (common after hair removal like shaving), or folliculitis (inflammation of hair follicles sometimes referred to as pimples), and also come from more chronic medical conditions like hidradenitis suppurativa, which affects sweat glands and causes recurrent boil-like nodules. And, bumps can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as genital warts, genital herpes, or other viral infections such as molluscum contagiosum.”
How do you know if you have a pimple, or something more serious?
So the question that is on all of our minds, is how do we know if we have a pimple, or an STI? The general rule of thumb: if there is pain, an increase in size, bleeding or discharge from the pimple, then you might like to get it checked out.
It can be a hard area to examine yourself, but a mirror can help. Dr. Clare explains, that it’s important to get to know your genitals, so that you can identify when something changes. Pimples, ingrown hairs, or mild folliculitis tend to have a similar appearance to pimples elsewhere in the body (small round red lumps in the skin).
Dr. Clare urges, “if it is new or changing, it is important to get it checked by a healthcare professional to ensure it is not something more serious.”
How should you treat pimples on the VULVA?
When it comes to treating these little volcanic baddies, both doctors concur, less freak out and more leaving ‘em alone to figure it out on their own. Our beautiful complex biology has a way of working through these problems.
But, some simple hygiene standards apply, take your pants off, turn up some tunes and do a ditty, “allow the area to be dry and open to the air, sometimes soaking in a tub with warm to hot water twice a day can be helpful,” says Dr. Jessica.
Like other pimples, usually they should resolve on their own. It can be tempting to squeeze and pop them, but this may lead to secondary infection so should be avoided. A warm washer on the affected area may help.
How can we prevent pimples on the genitals?
Avoid products that can irritate our natural oils and skin, such as soaps, baby wipes, bubble baths and excess sweat and tight clothing.
Dr. Clare says, “use a non-soap, non-scented cleanser to wash the external genital skin, ensure you dry the skin properly after washing, wear breathable underwear and be careful with (or even better, avoid) hair removal”.
Should we avoid sex, shaving, or exercise if we have pimples on the genitals?
If you are unsure what the genital bumps are, or they are causing you pain, it is best to avoid sex until you see a healthcare professional (to ensure they are not something that you could transmit to someone else). If they’re just pimples, Dr. Jessica says. “It can irritate it but sex, shaving and exercise can still be done”.
Dr. Clare recommends being careful shaving, “it could result in shaving off the top layers of skin from the pimples which could delay their healing or cause secondary infection”.
She advises that exercising is fine providing you, “wear breathable clothing and washing to remove sweat afterwards”.