Why do I have a sore vagina? These are the possible reasons - and what to do about it

There are a multitude of reasons you may have a sore vagina, according to the experts

Creative depiction of a vagina for a feature on what to do about a sore vagina
(Image credit: Getty)

Having a sore vagina and feeling discomfort can be a topic women struggle to talk about. Much like speaking openly about find the best vibrator, or if there's a sexual issue with our partners, many of us still shy away from having frank conversations when it comes to intimate issues.

In fact, research from The Eve Appeal - the UK's Gynaecological Cancer Research Charity - revealed that almost half of women (49%) said they would like to talk more  about gynaecological health. The same research also revealed that women aged between 46 and 55 were the most to ignore gynaecological health symptoms in the hope that they would go away (38%) or because they felt that they weren't urgent enough to consult a GP about (21%).

Another survey conducted by YouGov also revealed a shocking lack of knowledge about female genitalia among both genders, with the following figures representing the percentage of women who were unable to identify or describe the function of the urethra (55%), labia (43%) or vagina (45%).

If you fall into this group, you're clearly not alone, and our no nonsense guide to normal vaginas is a great place to start in terms of educating yourself. In terms of keeping your vagina healthy, there are plenty of places to start, including staying away from stripping body washes down there, eating a balanced diet and regular sex. And this includes solo sex - in fact, there are a multitude of health benefits of using a vibrator

Here we tackle one of the most common vagina problems—vaginal soreness. And, work out what's going on behind scenes in your body, with the help of experts. Vaginal soreness can be due to a number of reasons, all of which have their own individual treatments and remedies. We look at some of the most common below. Don't forget to follow-up with your GP if you have any concerns.

Why is my vagina sore?

Stumped as to why you have a sore vagina? You may be experiencing one of the below.

Thrush

"Vaginal thrush is caused by an overgrowth of candida, a yeast infection which commonly affects women. It can be associated with antibiotic use, pregnancy, diabetes, hormone changes and stress," says Dr Sally Moorcroft is a qualified doctor with 20 years of clinical experience, specialising in functional and integrative medicine, and director of Orchard Barn Lifestyle Ltd (Orchard Barn Health).

"Causing mild to severe itching and a vaginal discharge with a whitish, thick, curd-like appearance and a yeasty odour, thrush can be very unpleasant. Redness, inflammation and mild swelling may occur, and the tissue may become raw from itching."

The treatment: Dr Moorcroft suggests a number of natural therapies which can act as an effective treatment. These include probiotics designed for the vaginal flora such as InvivoBio.Me Femme V, reducing sugar intake and using herbs with antifungal affects including the following: 

  • Tea tree, which can be found in moisturisers for the intimate area and hygiene sprays. Apply topically.
  • Berberine - as a capsule or tincture - internally .
  • Thyme - as infusion or tincture - internally.
  • Calendula - as a cream topically.

To help soothe the area and restore the flora she also recommends applying live natural yogurt.

  • Decant 2-3 tbsps into a clean pot.
  • Apply this using your finger and leave on for 3-5 minutes.
  • Rinse off.
  • Repeat up to 2 times daily depending on the severity, this can be continued for up to 2 weeks.

A sore vagina can be a symptom of the menopause 

“It’s vital to remember that symptoms of the menopause vary hugely from one woman to the next, as does their severity. For many women the hormone changes bring about symptoms which have a huge impact on their sex lives, especially decreased libido, painful sex and vaginal dryness," says Dr Shirin Lakhani, cosmetic doctor and intimate health expert at Elite Aesthetics. "Hormone shifts make the tissues in your vagina become thin and dry and this dryness in turn can add friction during sex. Your vagina also stretches less, which can make it feel tight."

Continuing, she adds, "With age generally, oestrogen levels can decrease resulting in the vagina becoming dry and less acidic, meaning it can take longer or become impossible to get lubricated for sex. Over time this hormone deficiency can lead to more significant changes such as reduced blood flow to the vagina and the tissue becoming thinner, leading to pain during sex or dyspareunia."

The treatment: Dr Lakhani suggests experimenting with over the counter lubricants to ease dryness, while hormone replacement therapy and hyaluronic acid injections can provide longer term relief. 

You may have a sore vagina before your period

“There are a number of reasons why your vagina may feel sore before your period," reveals Dr Lakhani. "The hormones responsible for period pain are known as prostaglandins. And while these tend to be the source of period cramps, the pelvic nerves can also transfer the pain to your vagina or thighs. "Fluctuations of hormones like oestrogen and progesterone can also cause vaginal pain by creating changes in vaginal pH that make it more sensitive."

She also outlines that an increase in fluid retention both before and during your period can cause the vaginal and vulvar tissue to become engorged which can lead to pain.

The treatment: Dr Lakhani says it can be tempting to turn to over-the-counter feminine washes and intimate creams to ease soreness. But she warns: "Be cautious about choosing these products and if you do use them, make sure that they are unfragranced and designed for sensitive skin. My advice again would be that if you do have an issue it is important to see a GP first before trying over the counter products to rule anything more sinister."  



Vaginitis

"Vaginitis is vaginal inflammation and is usually caused by yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. While you may experience symptoms of vaginitis throughout the month, changes to the pH of your vagina during menstruation may make them flare up," says Dr Lakhani.

The treatment: Many turn to over-the-counter pain relief such as ibuprofen or paracetamol first. However, Dr Lakhani cautions that if "isn’t doing enough to relieve the pain, and if you experience itching or an unusual smell alongside the pain, you should go to speak to a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions." 



UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections)

"UTIs such as cystitis can cause vaginal soreness, along with the characteristic stinging pain on passing urine, frequency, urgency and abdominal pain or pressure," Dr Sally Moorcroft explains. "It is important to ensure a urine infection is treated effectively as they can develop into kidney infections which are much more serious and have greater risks of complications. Pregnancy, sexual intercourse, dehydration, menopause and increasing age can all predispose to urine infections and there is also a link with imbalance in bacterial flora in the bladder."

The treatment: "Drinking more fluids (ideally water or herbal teas) is vital," says Dr Moorcroft. 

She also suggests taking cranberry powder rather than the juice, which is high in sugars, as well as Echinacea to boost immunity along with antimicrobial herbs such as Uvaursi and Buchu. She goes on to explain that probiotics designed for the bladder flora such as InvivoBio. Me Femme UT can also be a great choice. 

"Addressing underlying vaginal dryness caused by menopause is also important," Dr Moorcroft adds.