There are few things more annoying than an itch you can't quite scratch—especially when it affects your butt hole. That's because the area has a high concentration of nerve endings, meaning anal irritation may feel much more intense than, say, a bug bite on your arm.
Luckily, it's easy to get relief from the issue formally known as "pruritis ani," the fancy, Latin phrase for "itchy anus." To get to the bottom of the issue, look out for these common triggers:
YOU'VE GOT STOOL CONSISTENCY ISSUES.
Stool that's too soft and mushy can cause itching if traces slip out of the anus after you've wiped and left the bathroom, according to Dr. David Rosenfeld, a proctologist in Los Angeles. And regardless of whether you see skid marks on your undies, an imperceptible amount of stool could be a enough to cause irritation when it dries on the skin.
Many people with irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal issues are too familiar with the issue. But drinking too much caffeine, not eating enough fiber, eating a diet too high in fats, and dealing with stress and anxiety can also lead to leakage.
How to stop it: After a sticky bowel movement, cleanse with water-moistened toilet paper or a washcloth to clear as much stray stool as possible. Then, make sure you're drinking lots of water and getting the recommended 25 grams of fiber per day, and/or supplement with psyllium, a special form of fiber that improves stool consistency. If you have chronic stool or bowel movement issues, visit your general physician or see a gastrointestinal specialist.
YOU'RE WIPING TOO HARD.
The skin around your anus is particularly sensitive, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist in New York City. Over-wiping or scrubbing can physically irritate the outermost layer of skin in the area, causing irritation and itching.
How to stop it: Instead of wiping away with dry, scratchy paper, use water-moistened paper or a spray of water to help clear off pesky residue.
YOU'RE CLEANING THE AREA TOO WELL.
The same soaps and cleansers that can irritate your vagina can also trigger anal itching. Even beyond body wash, scented wipes marketed for cleaning your anal area can contain irritating chemicals that make you want to scratch, Dr. Zeichner says.
How to stop it: Only use water or unscented wipes to clean your anal area.
YOUR GROOMING HABITS ARE A PROBLEM.
If you've ever waxed or shaved your pubes, you can attest to just how itchy your vulva can be as a result. Guess what? The same goes for your anus, according to Dr. Zeichner, who says the skin in this area is also super sensitive.
Also, if you're still riding the anal bleaching bandwagon, the chemicals used to whiten the area can cause irritation, burning, and itching—meaning they could be at the root of your problem.
How to stop it: Adjusting your grooming routine to eliminate the trigger. Not happening? Dr. Zeichner recommends moisturizing the irritated area with a skin-protecting petroleum oil for relief.
YOU HAVE AN INFECTION.
Some of the same itch-inducing conditions known to plague the vagina could also infect the anal area: Yeast infections can affect the perineum (the area of skin between the vagina and anus) as well as in the anus itself, according to Dr. Dweck, who notes that itching is the primary symptom because the body cavity doesn't produce discharge that might otherwise flag an issue.
The area is also susceptible to fungal infections, according to Dr. Rosenfeld, who blames antibiotics and sweaty workout clothes, plus sexually-transmitted infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be marked by itchy warts.
Because HPV, which most adults who have had sex have been exposed to, can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, any anal play—not just anal sex—can lead to transmission, according to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an ob-gyn based in New York.
How to stop it: To rule out a yeast or fungal infection, try an over-the-counter anti-fungal ointment to relieve itching—but you'll need to see a doctor if your symptoms don't go away within a few days. Then, avoid hanging out in sweaty or wet clothes for too long and opt for dry, breathable fabrics like cotton to cut down your risk of reoccurrence. And if you notice new growths like warts near your genitals or anus, see your doctor for treatment and an STI screening.
YOU'RE NOT USING ENOUGH LUBE.
It's important to use lube during vaginal sex for many reasons. But because unlike the vagina, the anus isn't self-lubricating, this goes double for anal play: Without lubing up properly, the sensitive skin in and around the anus is susceptible to micro-tears that can itch as they heal regardless of whether they bleed.
How to stop it: Use more lube during anal play! Most people prefer a silicone-based lube, because it stays slippery for longer than water-based alternatives.
YOU'VE DEVELOPED AN ADDICTION TO SCRATCHING.
Most of the time, Dr. Rosenfeld says, unbearable anal itching is "idiopathic," meaning doctors don't know exactly why it occurs. One theory is that it stems from an actual trigger—maybe some toilet paper got stuck in the area. Then, once your brain realizes how incredible it feels to soothe that specific itch, you experience a euphoria that turns a one-time thing into a habit. "An itch is a very powerful stimuli," Dr. Rosenfeld says. "There's an addictive component to it."
How to stop it: Most idiopathic itching eventually stops. But otherwise, the best thing you can do to break the cycle is try your darnedest not to scratch.
Follow Hannah on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.