If Your Vulva Is Swollen, This Might Be Why

Photographed by Erika Bowes.
If you notice your vulva is swollen, you might automatically assume something is very wrong. But there are many possible explanations. If you recently had rough sex, tried a new brand of laundry detergent, or started biking to work, the explanation might be that simple. On the other hand, sometimes a swollen vulva is a symptom of a condition that requires treatment, such as a yeast infection or trichomoniasis.
If you’re worried about what’s happening with your vulva, it’s always a good idea to visit your doctor — especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms, such as itching, pain, burning, or unusual vaginal discharge. It’s always better to know for sure what’s going on, because if you need medication or another kind of treatment, you can get that started. "Because it is difficult to figure out which kind of infection it is on your own, it is important to get the correct diagnosis and treatment from your doctor," Roshini Raj, MD, a board-certified physician and women's health advocate, previously told Refinery29 about vaginal itching — and the same goes for a swollen vulva or vagina, too.
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Here are a few reasons why your vulva might be swollen:
Your underwear is too tight
Have you been wearing tight underwear, shorts, a bodysuit, bathing suit, or any other kind of clothing that puts pressure on your vulva? Try wearing something looser for a while and see how you feel.
You just had sex
When you’re turned on, your blood rushes to your genitals — meaning that your vulva will swell up. If you notice some swelling when you’re turned on, or shortly after you’ve had sex, this might be the explanation. Additionally, if you have rough sex, your vulva may be swollen afterwards.
You didn’t use lube
Insufficient lubrication is another common reason for a swollen vulva, especially if you’ve recently had sex or masturbated. There’s an easy fix for this: next time, use lube.
You have an allergy
If your vulva is swollen and itchy, you may have an allergy. Did you recently change detergents or soaps, use a new kind of lube (especially a "cooling" or "warming" lube), or have sex using a latex condom? You may be experiencing a reaction to something, so stop using the product and see how you feel. Additionally, if you use douches or vaginal wipes, this may be the cause (you don’t need to use those, anyway — the vagina is self-cleaning).
You have an infection
Vulva swelling is one potential symptom of a variety of vaginal infections, including yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and some STIs, including trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea, and chlamydia. If the swelling is accompanied by itching, burning, or unusual discharge, this might be the explanation. If you think you might have a vaginal infection, head to your OB/GYN so you can get a prescription for medication.
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You’re pregnant or about to get your period
Your vulva also swells with hormonal changes — including during pregnancy and right before and during menstruation. Take a look at where you are in your cycle when you notice the swelling (a period tracking app can help with this).
You have a cyst
A swollen vulva may be the result of a cyst. A Bartholin’s cyst occurs when one of the Bartholin’s glands — which are located on either side of the vagina — become obstructed. A Gartner’s duct cyst is a rare condition in which the remnants of the vaginal duct that forms in the foetus remain in your body. Often, these cysts don't need to be treated, but if they're causing pain or become infected, your doctor might suggest antibiotics, drainage, or surgical removal.
You have a skin condition
Some skin conditions, including genital Crohn’s disease and psoriasis, may lead to a swollen vulva. If this applies to you, check with your doctor to figure out a treatment plan.
You just started bicycling or horseback riding
A swollen vulva can be caused by something as simple as putting a lot of pressure on your genital area while clothed. If you recently started bicycling, horseback riding, or another physical activity that puts pressure on your groin, that might be the explanation. The swelling might go away as your body gets used to your new activity, or you may need to look for abetter-fitting bike seat or saddle.
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