Sores or lesions on the female genitalia or in the vagina may occur for many reasons.
Genital sores may be painful or itchy, or may produce no symptoms. Other symptoms that may be present include pain when you urinate or painful sexual intercourse. Depending on the cause, a discharge from the vagina may be present.
Infections spread through sexual contact can cause these sores:
- Herpes is a common cause of painful sores.
- Genital warts may cause painless sores.
Changes that may lead to cancer of the vulva (vulvar dysplasia) may appear as white, red, or brown patches on the vulva. These areas may itch. Skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas may also be found, but are less common.
Other common causes of genital sores include:
- Long-term (chronic) skin disorder that involves scaly and itchy rashes. (atopic dermatitis)
- Skin that becomes red, sore, or inflamed after contact with perfumes, detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, ointments, creams, douches. (contact dermatitis)
- Cysts or abscesses of the Bartholin or other glands
- Trauma or scratches
- Flu-type viruses that can cause genital sores or ulcers in some cases
See a health care provider before treating yourself. Self-treatment may make it harder for the provider to find the source of the problem.
A sitz bath may help relieve itching and crusting.
If the sores are caused by a sexually transmitted infection, your sexual partner may need to be tested and treated as well. Do not have any type of sexual activity until your provider says the sores can no longer be spread to others.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you:
- Find any unexplained genital sore
- Have a change in a genital sore
- Have genital itching that does not go away with home care
- Think you might have a sexually transmitted infection
- Have pelvic pain, fever, vaginal bleeding, or other new symptoms as well genital sores
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will perform a physical examination. The physical exam most often includes a pelvic examination. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Questions may include:
- What does the sore look like? Where is it located?
- When did you first notice it?
- Do you have more than 1?
- Does it hurt or itch? Has it grown bigger?
- Have you ever had 1 before?
- How often do you have sexual activity?
- Do you have painful urination or pain during sexual intercourse?
- Do you have abnormal vaginal drainage?
The following tests may be done:
Treatment may include medicines that you put on the skin or take by mouth. The type of medicine depends on the cause.
Sores on the female genitals
Augenbraun MH. Genital skin and mucous membrane lesions. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 108.
Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 23.
Frumovitz M, Bodurka DC. Neoplastic diseases of the vulva. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 30.
Link RE, Rosen T. Cutaneous diseases of the external genitalila. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 16.
Review Date 11/5/2015
Updated by: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.