What Does it Mean When Your Vagina Burns After Sex?

When your vulva burns after sex, it’s a fairly common symptom. But it can also be a sign of some serious conditions that need to be treated immediately.

The good news is that many causes of vaginal burning after sex are easy to diagnose and treat. But it’s always best to see a doctor if you’re experiencing new symptoms or pain.

Causes

For women, pain after sex can occur for a variety of reasons. Often, it comes from rough or prolonged intercourse, especially when there’s not enough lubrication. But sometimes, it can also be a sign of an infection, such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea and chlamydia. In some cases, if these infections are left untreated or become severe, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which is more serious and may cause other symptoms such as fevers.

Sometimes, the pain can simply be a result of the vagina’s skin becoming irritated. This could be caused by certain fabrics or soaps, shower gels, and even lubricants that are too harsh. It could also be due to having a period, when the vulva can be drier than usual and more sensitive to friction.

Lastly, the pain and burning could be a result of sex itself, or rather, a psychological issue that makes one tense during sex. A lot of different things can trigger this, such as relationship problems, past sexual trauma or discomfort, and mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

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Treatment

Despite its scary nature, pain and burning during sex doesn’t always indicate a serious issue. If it’s a one-off, or you know what’s causing the sensation (such as a lubricant allergy), it can be treated at home. If it occurs more frequently, or there are other symptoms such as bleeding, a strong odour, or a change in discharge, it’s important to get medical attention.

Using a different condom or lubricant is a good start. Try polyisoprene, lambskin or female condoms, as these are less likely to cause painful penetration or irritation. If you have an allergy, try water-based lubricants as they are typically the most tolerated. You may also have a reaction to your condom, or other sexual toys, especially if you’ve recently introduced something new into the bedroom.

A yeast infection, thrush or bacterial vaginosis can cause pain during intercourse. These are simple to diagnose with a test and can be easily treated with antibiotics. STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or herpes can also cause painful intercourse. These can be diagnosed with a sex screen, which is usually offered as a free service at sexual health clinics. It’s also important to use a barrier method and abstain until the infection is clear. This will reduce the likelihood of passing on the infection to your partner, too.

Prevention

The good news is that most reasons for vaginal burning after sex are either treatable or preventable. The first thing to do is avoid prolonged or excessive (if possible) sexual contact. That can cause the abrasive friction that causes itching and burning.

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Next, make sure you’re well-lubricated with a water-based lubricant during intercourse. “This lubrication helps reduce uncomfortable friction during penetration,” says Kanani. She also recommends that women wear loose, cotton underwear that allows for airflow to the genital area. Avoid tight, nylon thongs or pantyhose because they restrict circulation and can lead to irritation.

A yeast infection can also trigger a burning sensation in the vagina, but it’s not usually painful. These infections, which are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida, typically result in itching and a cottage cheese-like discharge that doesn’t smell. Other infections that can trigger a vaginal burn include urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and sexually transmitted diseases like trichomoniasis and gonorrhea.

A semen allergy, a rare but serious condition that affects the vulva and anus, can also trigger burning in the genital area. Fortunately, there are plenty of safe and effective ways to treat this, including using a condom with a sperm barrier, taking antihistamines, or switching to latex-free underwear. If the problem persists, speak to a pelvic floor physical therapist about treatment options.

Symptoms

If you experience a burning sensation during or after sex, it’s best to seek medical attention to rule out serious issues. This could include a yeast infection (which is usually itchy and accompanied by a cottage cheese-like discharge) or sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, herpes, or trichomoniasis, all of which can also cause pain and sensitivity.

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Women in the midst of perimenopause or menopause may also experience this symptom as a result of vaginitis, a condition that causes the muscles of the vulva to involuntarily squeeze during penetration. It can also be a sign of vestibulodynia, a chronic condition that causes pain in the opening (vestibular canal) of the anus or the vagina.

A vaginal infection can also lead to irritation, which may cause you to feel a burning sensation during sex. Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, for example, both cause itching, redness, and thick discharge. STIs like chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea can also cause a burning feeling during sex, although only about 30 percent of those with the most common curable STI, trichomoniasis, report symptoms.

Irritation can also be caused by irritants like certain fabrics, soaps, or lotions you use on your vulva. These can mess with the natural bacteria and pH balance of the area, leading to a rash or burning sensation. You may also be allergic to lubricants, condoms, or other substances used during sex.

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