You’ve just had sex and are feeling pretty great.
Then it starts.
A raging fire down below. Your vagina is burning with a painful, irritating heat.
Why does this happen? And is vaginal burning after sex something to worry about?
We chatted with Abbas Kanani, superintendent pharmacist at Chemist Click, to find out, going through potential causes for the post-sex burn and breaking down what to do about it.
Causes of burning after sex:
Not enough lubrication
‘Your body produces natural lubrication when you are sexually stimulated,’ explains Abbas. ‘If you have engaged in sex without enough lubrication, this can cause vaginal dryness, increasing the chances of friction.
‘Friction causes burning, heat and sensitivity, which can lead to painful sex or pain after sex.’
Dealing with this issue is a case of prevention rather than a post-sex fix.
Ensure you’re fully aroused before you get into penetration, spending plenty of time engaged in foreplay, and that you’re relaxed, too.
Try using lube to reduce friction, too.
Allergy to sperm
Yep, it’s a thing. And if you notice your vagina burns only after your partner ejaculates inside you, a semen allergy might be why.
‘An allergy to sperm can cause burning, itching, redness and discomfort around the vaginal area,’ says Abbas. ‘This may be triggered by sex, or the skin coming into contact with sperm.
‘Sperm allergy is usually caused by proteins found in semen, which can cause irritation in and around the vagina. Allergy to sperm does not affect fertility, but it can make intercourse uncomfortable.’
If you think you have a semen allergy, use condoms, or if you’re using other contraceptive methods, try getting your partner to pull out before they finish. The pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception, so please don’t rely on it to prevent pregnancy, but it can help to reduce post-sex pain.
Urinary tract infection
A nasty UTI can cause a burning sensation during and after sex, as it causes inflammation around the bladder and urethra.
If sex adds pressure around these areas, burning and pain can occur.
Abbas explains: ‘A yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, itching and vaginal discharge. Discharge has a “cottage cheese” appearance and does not usually smell.
‘The infection is usually caused by antibiotic use or an imbalance of natural flora in the vagina.
‘Yeast infections can cause sex to be painful and can cause the vagina to burn after sex.
‘You should avoid sex if you have a yeast infection as inserting anything into the vagina can bring in new bacteria, delaying recovery time.’
Sometimes, post-sex burning is down to just going a bit too hard.
‘If sexual penetration was rough or longer than usual, you may experience discomfort afterwards,’ says Abbas. ‘The extra pressure and friction can cause inflammation in the area around the vagina.
‘Some sex toys can also trigger a painful response. You may wish to lubricate toys before use to avoid friction.’
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Often confused for a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis is super common, and one of the key symptoms is pain or burning after sex – along with strong smelling discharge and pain when urinating.
BV disrupts the bacterial balance in the vagina.
f you think you may have bacterial vaginosis, go to your GP or a sexual health clinic, where they’ll be able to test for the infection with a cotton swab.
If you do have it, BV will likely be treated with antibiotic tablets, gels, or creams.
If your sexual partner also has a vagina, they’ll need to be treated too, but if your partner has a penis, they’re fine to go without treatment. You’ll likely be advised to stop having sex during treatment, though.
Allergy to condoms, toys, or lubes
‘Certain materials can cause irritation to the vulva, causing stinging and burning. If any objects have been inserted into the vagina, the pain may reach the canal, causing internal pain,’ explains Abbas.
‘Latex condoms in particular can cause symptoms such as itching, swelling and burning.
‘You may wish to take an antihistamine tablet to treat symptoms of allergy. Severe allergies may require urgent medical attention.’
Vaginismus is a condition that causes vaginal muscles to tighten involuntarily during intercourse.
This can make sex incredibly painful and prevent penetration from being possible, but can also cause pain after sex.
This one links back to the lack of lubrication factor.
Abbas says: ‘Anxiety, low self-esteem, fear of being intimate and problems in a relationship can make it difficult to get sexually aroused.
‘This can make intercourse uncomfortable and can cause pain and burning after sex too.
‘A lack of natural lubrication from the vagina, together with tightening of pelvic muscles from anxiety can be contributing factors.’
Don’t panic and jump to STIs as your first conclusion for why your vagina is burning – it’s far more likely to be one of the other causes on this list.
But some STIs can indeed cause painful sex.
‘STIs such as genital herpes and chlamydia can cause painful intercourse,’ Abbas explains. ‘Genital herpes causes sores and blisters which can cause pain when having sex. A symptom of chlamydia is pain during sex.
‘If you are experiencing discharge, vaginal bleeding, pain around the stomach or pelvis, pain when urinating, or you if have recently engaged in unprotected intercourse, you should visit a sexual health clinic to find out if you require chlamydia treatment.’
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
PID is an infection which affects the womb, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.
It doesn’t usually cause symptoms, but sometimes people experience pain or burning during and after sex, specifically deep in the pelvis area.
‘Other symptoms can include lower stomach pain, bleeding between periods and a green or yellow vaginal discharge,’ Abbas says. ‘If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should visit your doctor.’
Abbas explains: ‘Around the time of menopause, and after, sex can be painful. This is because the female body is undergoing hormonal changes.
‘The hormone oestrogen drops when a woman is menopausal. The drop in oestrogen also causes the lining of the vagina to thin. This can cause intercourse to be painful and can bring about vaginal burning after sex.’
If you suspect this may be the cause of your discomfort, try lubricants and visit your doctor to talk about hormone treatments.
‘Endometriosis is tissue growth around the female reproductive system,’ says Abbas. ‘This can make sex painful and uncomfortable.
‘Pressure and force on the endometrial tissue can cause intercourse to be painful, especially if tissue growth has occurred around the vagina and uterus.
‘If endometriosis is negatively affecting your sex life, you should speak to your doctor about it. The contraceptive pill can be prescribed to help manage symptoms.’
Vulvodynia is an unexplained pain around the vagina and vulva.
It can flare up due to irritation, stress, infections, and physical trauma, which can result in pain and burning.
If you think you might have vulvodynia, talk to your doctor for advice.
Abbas explains: ‘Cystitis is an infection of the bladder, which can be caused by a bacterial infection, or irritation to the bladder.
‘It can be brought about by friction from sex but can also be caused by irritation from certain ingredients in soap.
‘You are more likely to contract cystitis if you have diabetes, as high blood sugar levels can cause bacteria to grow and multiply.
‘Women going through menopause are also prone to getting cystitis, as the urethra shrinks and can become thinner due to a reduction in oestrogen levels.
‘Intercourse can aggravate cystitis, causing a burning sensation after sex.’
If you’re regularly experiencing burning after sex, this might be down to a reaction to your contraception.
‘Some contraceptive pills and contraceptive rings can cause vaginal dryness, which can lead to painful sex,’ says Abbas. ‘This is because these methods of contraception reduce your natural production of hormones which can thin the skin around the genital region.
‘This can cause inflammation and irritation, leading to pain and burning, during and after intercourse. An intrauterine device that has moved can also cause pain during sex.’
Abbas says: ‘Vaginitis is the inflammation of the vagina resulting in swelling and soreness around the area, often causing pain and burning after sex. It can be caused by other infections, as well as menopause and skin conditions.
How to soothe burning after sex:
Cooling beats burning. Makes sense.
‘An icepack or cold compress can help to relieve pain and burning from sex by numbing the area,’ says Abbas.
‘You should use a towel or cloth as a barrier. Every few minutes, you should remove the pack for a few minutes.
‘Do not insert any cold compresses or ice packs into your vagina.’
It bears repeating: don’t put cold compresses or ice directly on your vagina or vulva. Think of a tongue getting stuck to a frozen pole. You don’t want that situation on your genitals.
‘If you have an infection, it can cause pain and burning during or after sex,’ Abbas explains. ‘Antibiotics from your doctor can help to clear the infection, which should reduce symptoms.
‘Antihistamines can help to reduce symptoms from mild allergies.
‘The contraceptive pill can help to reduce symptoms of endometriosis, which often cause pain when having sex.
‘Certain antidepressants and anti-epilepsy medication can help to reduce pain associated with vulvodynia.
‘Certain muscle relaxants can help to reduce muscle spasms associated with vaginismus. This is usually initiated in by a specialist.’
Physiotherapy and exercise
‘Tight pelvic floor muscles can make penetration difficult, which can cause pain during and after sex,’ Abbas notes. ‘Certain exercises can help to relax these muscles, allowing for easier penetration.
‘This can reduce the pain associated with sex and help to make it a more pleasurable experience.
‘Certain instruments such as vaginal trainers can also be used. This involves inserting cones into the vagina and gradually increasing the size. The aim of this is to prevent muscles around the vagina from tightening upon penetration.’
If vaginal dryness is to blame, lubes are your best friend, helping to reduce fiction and thus pain.
You can also use anaesthetic gels, to help numb pain, but only do this on the advice of your doctor.
‘Certain materials and ingredients in lubes, toys and condoms may cause irritation,’ Abbas says. ‘You should try to opt for natural, water-based options to reduce the chances of allergy.
‘It may take a while and trying a few different products before you find what works best for you.’
When to see your doctor:
If pain and irritation is persistent, or lasts for longer than one – two days, you should see your doctor. Unexplained pain, bleeding, discharge, and general discomfort should always be investigated.
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