Healthy lives for young people
Vaginas & Vulvas

Do I need to see a doctor?

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The first thing to say is that it is important to know your body and what is normal for you. It is likely that you will notice subtle changes in your vagina and vulva as you go through life and these are nothing to worry about. These changes are often connected to hormone levels in your body. The first major change you might notice could be when puberty and your periods start. This is because your ovaries are producing and releasing a hormone called oestrogen. Other life changes such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and later, the menopause can also cause changes as they affect hormone levels in the body.

Remember, if you are worried about any aspect of your vagina or vulva, help is available. Use our Find a Service tool to find services near you that can help.

Here are some things you might want to see a doctor about:

Vaginal dryness

Causes of dryness can include:

  • Not being aroused during sex or sexual activity
  • Using perfumed products in or around your vagina
  • The contraceptive pill or antidepressants
  • Breastfeeding

If you’re experiencing dryness during sex or sexual activity, water based lube can be a great way to overcome this. Avoid using any products not designed for your vagina and if you think your dryness could be connected to medication you are taking, see the doctor who prescribed it.

Also see your doctor if you are experiencing other symptoms together with dryness, such as unusual discharge or bleeding from your vagina, bleeding after sex or in between your periods or if the problem has been going on for a few weeks and/or is affecting your daily life.

Itchiness

Intense internal and external vaginal burning and itching can suggest thrush, a yeast infection that is caused by a fungus that lives naturally in the body. This is sometimes accompanied by a thick, white cottage-cheese like discharge. Vaginitis is another possible cause. Because vaginitis is often a side-effect of other conditions, treatment depends on what is causing it.

Various STIs can also cause itchiness including pubic lice, genital herpes and trichomoniasis. If you have had unprotected sex, get tested to see if your symptoms could be connected.

Discharge

Some vaginal discharge is perfectly normal and is produced by the body to keep the vagina moist and protected from infection. The amount of discharge your body produces may fluctuate during the month. You may also notice more discharge when you’re feeling sexually excited.

Sometimes discharge looks thick and white, other times it can be stringy and clear or even yellowish in colour. It may be slightly brown or pink, around the time of your period. All of this is normal. It is also normal for discharge to have a faint smell.

The key is to know what is normal for you. If your discharge changes in colour, texture or volume, smells unpleasant, makes you itchy or sore, or is accompanied by other symptoms, these can be signs of an infection. If you are worried speak to a doctor or nurse.

Odour and smell

Fishy-smelling discharge which is thin and grey-white in colour could mean you have bacterial vaginosis, caused by a change in the acidity and an imbalance in good and bad bacteria in your vagina . Fishy smelling, yellowy-green frothy discharge suggests trichomoniasis, an STI caused by a tiny parasite. A strong, unpleasant smell after sex can suggest vaginitis.

As with the other symptoms, the key is to know what is normal for you. If you are worried, speak to a doctor or nurse.

Lumps and bumps

If the lumps or bumps are in areas where you have removed pubic hair, they could simply be ingrowing hairs. If you notice a soft, painless lump on your vulva, this could be a Bartholins cyst. Bartholins glands release fluid that lubricate the vagina and vulva during sex. A cyst (a small fluid-filled sac) can form if they become blocked. They rarely cause problems but it is always recommended to see your GP to rule anything more serious out.

If you have had unprotected sex or sexual activity, then there could be two further causes of lumps or bumps. Small fluid-filled blisters which burst to leave small, red painful sores could be herpes. If you notice small, painless growths or bumps, this could be genital warts. This is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus which is why the HPV vaccine is so important for young people.

Discomfort and pain

There are many possible causes of discomfort or pain including:

  • Painful periods
  • Cystitis: an irritation of the bladder causing need to pee frequently
  • A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) causing pain and stinging
  • Thrush
  • Infection with the cold sore virus (HSV)
  • Vaginismus: Painful sex due to involuntarily tightening of the vaginal muscles

Pain and discomfort in the vagina or vulva is not something you should have to live with and should not be ignored. Speak to a doctor or nurse who can help you treat the cause or help you manage the symptoms.

Unprotected sex

If you have had sex without a condom, you need to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Not all STIs will give you symptoms so don’t wait and hope for the best, go and get tested. If you’re not using another method of contraception (such as the pill) then you’ll also need to access emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.

CanesOasis Cystitis Relief granules for oral solution, contains sodium citrate dihydrate. Always read the label

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