1. You left something in your vagina.
Accidents happen. And the most common item doctors find hiding away in there is a tampon, OB-GYN Alysssa Dweck, M.D., author of V is for Vagina tells BuzzFeed Life. The dead giveaway is usually a VERY foul smell. But she’s also fished out a birth control diaphragm and stray sex toys. So if you ~think~ you may have something in there, get to a doctor ASAP. There’s sometimes the risk of abrasions or lacerations inside the vagina as a result of this, says Dweck, so don’t be embarrassed — they’ve seen everything.
2. You have lumps or bumps somewhere in the general vagina area.
Try not to panic — these are typically nothing serious. If you have a swollen or painful bump on your vulva, it might be a Bartholin’s cyst, which is basically a clogged gland outside of the vagina. These can vary in size and are typically found in the bottom corners of the vulva, says Dweck. They’re pretty common and may not cause you any trouble, in which case it’s fine to leave them alone or just treat them with warm soaks. But if they’re painful, infected, or super swollen, it might require drainage or antibiotics.
Another common crotch bump is a sebaceous cyst, which is a small lump under the skin, which can be caused by a skin lesion or clogged pores or ducts. They can also vary in size and may contain some white material, says Dweck. Like a Bartholin’s cyst, these are usually no big deal and can clear up on their own with warm compresses or soaks. But if they don’t go away or they get infected, check in with your doctor.
3. You have a super angry hair follicle down there.
Folliculitis is a clogged and infected hair follicle, says Dweck. And yes, it can happen with pubic hair follicles, because life isn’t fair. These might look like little red bumps or whiteheads, and in bad cases it may lead to scarring. You can get them from shaving, waxing, leaving on sweaty workout clothes, or even being in a hot tub. They may clear up on their own with warm compresses or soaks, but head to your doctor if it’s not going away or getting worse.
4. You have other weird ~skin stuff~ going on in your underpants region.
Believe it or not, pretty much any skin condition can also happen to the skin on your genitals. That means things like psoriasis, eczema, and even skin cancer, OB-GYN Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine, tells BuzzFeed Life.
5. There’s a big, bulging vein near your vagina.
This is called a vulvar varicosity, and it’s just as terrifying as it sounds. It’s actually a varicose vein on your vulva, and you’re more prone to them during pregnancy, says Dweck. They may be caused by straining when going to the bathroom or standing for long periods of time. There isn’t much treatment for them, but luckily they tend to go away on their own, she says.
6. Your vagina refuses to get wet.
If vaginal lubrication is just not a thing that is happening, it can be really uncomfortable, especially during sex. But don’t assume you’re all dried up and broken — you’re not. Lots of things can cause dryness, like some forms of birth control (especially low-dose versions), allergy medicines, or breastfeeding, says Minkin. You might be able to try another birth control method or allergy med, or you can always opt for some lube.
7. You vagina is itchy and you’ve got some cottage cheese-looking discharge.
This is probably a vaginal yeast infection, which is a super common fungal infection. It’s caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the area, which can happen for lots of different reasons — like taking antibiotics, having uncontrolled diabetes, sitting around in a wet swimsuit for hours, or anything that screws with your pH balance (like douching or having sex), explains Minkin. These are typically treated with an OTC antifungal cream or a pill.
8. You’ve got a thin, white discharge that smells something FOUL.
A really bad odor accompanied by discharge (and maybe some burning) is often a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV), says Minkin. It’s basically an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina, which can be caused by anything that messes up your natural pH balance (like douching, sex, or antibiotics). It’s pretty common, and your doctor can prescribe you oral or vaginal meds to clear it up.
9. Or your vagina is itching / burning / irritated / just generally pissed off.
OK, this could be a lot of things, so if you have any persistent itching, burning, redness, irritation, or unusual ~stuff~ going on below the belt, check in with your doctor. It’s probably nothing serious, but it’s most likely something that’s very easily treatable. Your best bet is to get tested for STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis,trichomoniasis, and others.
BUT REMEMBER, all of these STIs can also be totally symptomless sometimes, so get tested regularly regardless of whether or not you’ve got vagina problems.
10. When you try to put something in your vagina, it basically clamps shut.
Vaginismus isn’t super common, but it’s a painful condition where the vaginal muscles get so tight that they basically close off the opening of the vagina, Dweck explains. It’s an involuntary reaction that’s usually thought to have some psychological cause. And obviously this can lead to serious discomfort, pain, or even the inability to have any kind of sex at all. If this sounds like you, talk to your doctor about how long it’s been going on and what it feels like. If it is vaginismus, treatment may involve the use of vaginal dilators, relaxation exercises, or therapy to address any underlying causes. You can read more about vaginismus here.
11. Or you can barely even get a tampon into your vagina.
It’s pretty rare, but some women are born with an imperforate hymen, which is thicker hymenal tissue around the opening of the vagina. In this case, getting a tampon in or having intercourse becomes next to impossible, says Dweck. This is something that your gynecologist could diagnose during an exam and it can be surgically fixed.
12. You seriously can’t stop scratching your crotch.
Before you freak out about crabs or STIs, keep in mind that the most common cause of itching around your pubic area is simply skin irritation. Minkin says she typically sees a huge surge in patients right after the holidays and the usual culprit is a new scented body wash. Soaps, bubble baths, detergents, even the dyes in your underwear can all cause irritation for some people.
So if you’ve got some weird itching or a slight rash around your vulva (and you’re pretty sure you haven’t been exposed to any STIs), you might want to start bywashing your genitals with just water to see if it clears up. (That said, it could be something like crabs or an STI, so obviously see your doctor if it doesn’t go away or it gets worse.)
13. You feel like you have to pee ALL the time, and it BURNS.
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know how much they suck. Unfortunately, you might get these from having sex, since the urethra is so close the vagina, and bacteria can travel all over the place. But you can obviously get them even if you’re not sexually active. Luckily, these are treated pretty easily with antibiotics.
14. Your vagina just hurts.
Inner vaginal pain, especially during sex, can be a sign of lots of different things. It can be caused dryness, an infection, your period, or a condition like endometriosis, Dweck says. If you have persistent vaginal pain, check with your doctor to try to pinpoint the cause so you can treat it.
15. Actually, your vulva hurts.
If you’re having persistent pain on your vulva (the external opening of the vagina) that isn’t attributed to anything we’ve already talked about, it might be vulvodynia. This is chronic vulvar pain where even just touching the area with a cotton swab can be miserable, says Minkin. And since it’s still not well understood, most people with this condition end up seeing several doctors before they get the right diagnosis. So if you’re having persistent vulvar pain, talk to your gynecologist about this, suggests Minkin.
16. There’s some blood coming out of your vagina, and it’s not your period.
Most of the time spotting is no big deal, says Minkin. It can happen around ovulation, or it might be some breakthrough bleeding if you’re taking birth control, especially if you’re on a low-dose version or one that only gives you a few periods a year. This is totally normal (though annoying), but you can ask to switch to another method if it bothers you. Sometimes spotting can be a sign of an infection or health condition, so talk to your doctor if it persists.
“Bleeding after sex is what I’d pay a little more attention to,” says Minkin. This might just be from dryness (especially if it only happens once or twice), but it may also signal an infection. Bleeding after sex can also be a symptom of cervical cancer, so while you shouldn’t freak out, definitely tell your doctor if this happens often, says Minkin.
17. You have blisters or warts around your vagina.
HPV and genital herpes can both lead to warts or sores around the vagina and vulva. While there’s no cure for either of these viruses, there is definitely treatment. So make sure you get tested, get treated, and take precautions so that you don’t pass it to your partner.
18. You have a lot of pelvic pain and maybe some discharge, pain during sex, or a low fever.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) happens when an infection or bacteria spreads from your vagina to your uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. It often occurs when STIs like gonorrhea or chlamydia go untreated, says Minkin. So, seriously, remember to get tested regularly!
PID can come with tons of symptoms or none at all, but some major things to watch out for are severe pelvic pain, pain during sex or with urination, a low-grade fever, vomiting, and heavy discharge. If you have these symptoms, head to your doctor ASAP. It can be treated with antibiotics, but it may unfortunately affect your fertility. “The good thing for young women to remember is that one episode of PID can decrease fertility by about 10%, two episodes can decrease it by about 25%, and three episodes can decrease it by about 50%,” says Minkin. “So if you’ve got PID, it’s beneficial to jump on it right away.”
19. There’s a spot on your vulva that’s always itchy and irritated.
Vulvar cancer is rare and only accounts for about 0.6% of all cancers in women in the United States. That said, it’s a thing you should be aware of. It mostly affects women over age 70, but cases in younger women are often linked to infection with high-risk types of HPV. Even though vulvar cancer is rare, check with your doctor if you have a spot on your vulva that’s constantly itchy and irritated, or if it looks different than normal, says Minkin.