Few things are as embarrassing – and uncomfortable – as swelling down there. If you’ve got a swollen vagina, you might worry that something is terribly wrong with you. However, most vulva swelling is benign. Keep reading to learn when to contact your doctor.
First things first: a little anatomy. Although you might have Googled “swollen vagina,” you probably meant the vulva – the exterior portion of your genitals that includes the labia minora and majora, the clitoris and mons. Check out this guide to quickly brush up on your terminology.
You can more easily see and feel swelling in this area. In fact, you might not even realize if you’re experiencing internal swelling. But your cervix is one internal organ that can become inflamed, typically from sex that’s too rough, big penis sex (more on that here) infections, STIs and even using IUDs.
Related: Symptoms of STIs for Women
If there’s an internal problem, you might experience bleeding after sex. It’s worth talking to your doctor about this concern. Discover the reasons you bleed after sex.
Now that we’re got the anatomy lesson out of the way let’s discover why you might have a swollen vulva.
If you were wondering, swelling of the vulva and vagina is known as vulvovaginitis  (vaginitis is any vaginal infection). But “edema” refers to any swelling.
Whether you realize it or not, your body’s sexual response cycle includes swelling by default. Your vulva will fill with blood, becoming puffier and red. It’s not the only part of your body that behaves like this. Your facial lips and chest also fill with blood and flush.
Many animals have similar biology, and it’s one cue that males use to tell when females are aroused and fertile  . Of course, it’s harder to tell with humans, and you might not even notice if you’ve got a swollen vagina and vulva if you’re in the heat of the moment with your man or getting down with your favorite toy. But maybe take a look in the mirror next time for curiosity’s sake!
2. INJURY OR TRAUMA
Even minor trauma such as rough sex (learn why we love it in this post) can lead to a swollen vulva for a day or two. It’s not necessarily something to worry about. Just take it easy until you’re less tender.
However, one way to reduce the likelihood of inflammation is to use lube. Personal lubricant makes things slick and smooth. A little lube helps ease insertion of a penis or toy, and there’s less friction during sex. If you experience pain from sex because your body doesn’t produce enough natural lubricant, then lube from a bottle can help.
Lube can also double as a massage oil in a pinch (silicone-based is best for this). Plus, lube prevents sex or masturbation from causing micro-tears, which can make you more susceptible to infections and STIs. Learn all about lube.
Nonsexual injury or trauma can also lead to swelling. For example, women who frequently ride bikes might experience vulva swelling. Surgery is one correction option .
3. INGROWN HAIRS OR INFECTION FROM SHAVING
If your swelling is limited to a small area, it might just be a swollen hair follicle or ingrown hair after you’ve shaved. These are unsightly and can be painful. In extreme cases, the infection might become quite large and tender.
You can prevent or treat ugly bumps with a few home remedies.
- Exfoliate after shaving.
- Keep the area dry.
- Reduce friction in the area.
- Apply a warm compress to an infection.
- Drawing salves can help bring infections to a head.
- You may be able to use a needle or Tweezers to help draw out the hair. But let the doctor use the sharps if an incision is necessary.
Learn more about dealing with ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
4. ALLERGIES OR REACTIONS
Your vulva is self douching and it is not recommended that soaps are used to clean inside this area. The skin in between your legs is especially sensitive to chemicals, soaps and even fabrics. If you’ve recently purchased new underwear or switched laundry soaps, swelling might be indicative of a reaction. There’s another common allergy culprit, too: condoms. People who are allergic to latex condoms might experience genital swelling as well as itching and pain.
Medications such as Benadryl can help relieve symptoms of allergies.
Like a razor bump, a cyst is a localized bit of swelling. Cysts happen when a sac fills with fluid just above or in the skin. A cyst isn’t serious, but it can be painful. A doctor will determine whether your cyst needs to be drained.
Cysts are generally benign ; although, having one in this location may be quite uncomfortable.
7. NORMAL AND ABNORMAL LYMPH NODES
Lymph nodes are glands in the lymphatic system, which helps your immune system work correctly, and they’re located in the neck and groin. Lymph nodes can become swollen when your body is fighting an infection. If you’ve ever had swelling around your neck or ears when you had a cold, then you’re familiar with lymph glands.
The infections that cause lymph node swelling vary and even medications can cause lymphatic swelling. The common cold is caused by a virus, but cancer can trigger swelling of your lymph glands   while your body tries to fight it off. Lymphoma and leukemia specifically are known for causing inflammation. Crohn’s disease of the vulva is another potential cause .
Any conditions that cause the lymph nodes to become blocked and behave irregularly can also cause vulvar swelling. So swelling can be a symptom of a properly functioning lymphatic system and one that’s gone a bit wonky. However, vagina swelling is typically not because of something as drastic as cancer, so don’t freak out!
8. YEAST INFECTIONS
Most people think of yeast infection symptoms such as discharge and odor. Those are two of the most common symptoms. However, vaginal swelling is a sign you might miss when you’re dealing with more obvious symptoms.
Yeast infections are quite common and can be treated with medication. We recommend seeing a doctor if you suspect you have a yeast infection that doesn’t heal up on it’s own. But beware that you can pass a yeast infection to your partner, and he can pass it back to you. So you should probably wait to have sex until it’s passed. More on that in this post.
9. TRICHOMONAS VAGINITIS
Another type of infection that can lead to a swollen – and itchy – vagina is trich, an infection that’s sexually-transmitted. Trich is typically accompanied by an unpleasant discharge. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to deal with the infection and remedy the swelling it causes.
Did you know pregnancy can also cause a swollen vagina? The entire area fills with blood. One bonus? It becomes more sensitive.
But sometimes that sensitivity might be unpleasant. What used to feel good might be too intense. Imagine the hyper-sensitivity of your clitoris after orgasm and extend it to the rest of your vulva!
It’s not just blood flow that’s increased in the area. Your lymphatic system (remember that from above?) also tends to work overtime, leading to more swelling . Major vulval edema isn’t as common, and it can cause issues during your pregnancy .
TREATING YOUR SWOLLEN VAGINA
What should you do if you’ve got a swollen vulva? After reading the list above, you might have an idea of what it is. That helps direct you to the resolution.
For example, if it’s from arousal, you don’t need to do anything about it. Enjoy it or, if you’re not in a position to do anything about it, wait it out. This, too, shall pass.
For cysts and infections, seek help from your doctor. This is especially true if you have a fever at the same time.
Less serious concerns such as a mild reaction or razor bump can be remedied with ice, which reduces swelling. Pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help to reduce the swelling too. Treating an ingrown hair with a warm compress can expedite the process and offer pain relief.
Wear loose clothing that’s comfortable and breathable. Keep sweat from the area. Ease up on exercising if it’s going to irritate the area further.
Extreme swelling can make it difficult to urinate because your urethra is part of your vulva.
Psst, is sex painful? Click here.
If you suspect that your swollen vagina was caused by a chemical recently introduced into your life, remove those chemicals. Stop using laundry detergents, douches, and even soaps to determine which one is interacting with your body.
Remember that your vagina is self-cleaning, so you don’t need – and shouldn’t use – soap internally. This can lead to a bacterial infection or other pH imbalance. A water rinse is enough, and you should only use a gentle cleanser around your vulva.
If you’re worried about vulva swelling after reading this, try the DIY tips above to relieve discomfort. If after a few days the swelling doesn’t let up, it never hurts to contact your doctor.