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4 Things Bumps On Your Vagina Might Be Trying To Tell You

Is it an STI? A rash? Just a bad ingrown hair? Now you'll know.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Do yourself a favor and grab a handheld mirror and take a good, long look at your undercarriage (especially if you never have). It's good practice to be acquainted with all your body parts, and knowing what things generally look like down there improves your chances for quickly identifying anything abnormal—like bumps, lumps and everything in between.

This is important because some bumps on and near the vagina can be an early sign of something that needs medical attention (like syphilis), and spotting them sooner rather than later is usually best. Get to know your vulvar landscape, and then get acquainted with what all the little things that might pop up on your vulva may mean.

You might have an STI.

A few STIs list bumps on the vulva or near the vagina as symptoms. The bites from pubic lice (crabs) often show up on the vulva as little blue dots that itch like crazy.

During a herpes flareup (both simplex virus-1 and virus-2), it's common to see a cluster of blister-like bumps that are itchy and painful—something that's helpful to lookout for, because herpes is best diagnosed by swabbing one of those little bumps. They tend to appear within two to 20 days of getting infected, and then might go dormant for weeks or years.

Genital warts show up as skin-colored or whitish bumps around the vulva and anus, and most cases of these are caused by two types of HPV—HPV 6 and 11. They're irritating and can be itchy, but they usually don't hurt. Your body's own immune system may successfully fight the virus causing the warts, or if you want to expedite the process, you can see your doctor to have them frozen off, burned off or get a prescription cream that you'll put on them for a few weeks.

Though most people never see this symptom, according to Planned Parenthood, an early symptom of the bacterial infection syphilis is something called a "syphilis sore," which looks like a little chancre sore near the vulva or anus. It's firm, round and painless, and there's usually only one. It can also show up in a very hard-to-find spot, like inside the rectum or vagina.

And then there's a little-known but incredibly common STI called molluscum contagiosum. Dr. Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and author of Sex RX: Hormones, Health and Your Best Sex Ever, said this viral infection is quite common, especially among women in their twenties who are sexually active. "It's highly contagious and makes sprinkles of litlte bumps all over the vulva," Streicher said. "They generally go away on their own."

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You need to switch up your shaving routine.

A big culprit of bumps are ingrown hairs—something caused by the simple routine of shaving pubic hair. Streicher said these can be very painful (and if you've ever had one, you can attest).

Dr. Rebecca Brightman, an ob-gyn in New York City, warned against squeezing, tweezing, poking or prodding at these little guys—that'll only make it worse and possibly lead to an infected ingrown hair, which is about as unpleasant as it sounds.

If you have a particularly hard time with ingrown hairs, Streicher recommended switching to just clipping pubic hair close as opposed to actually removing it.

Something's up with your Bartholin's glands.

Streicher said maybe the most common culprit behind bumps in or near the vagina for younger women are cysts on the Bartholin's glands. The Bartholin's glands are two little pea-sized glands that sit right inside the vaginal opening and secrete all the liquids that lubricate the vagina during sex.

Occasionally, a cyst forms on one or both of the glands. Streicher said there's no direct cause, and some people are more prone to them than others. Some cysts are so small you never notice you have one, and others can grow up to grapefruit size. "Generally they're not painful but can be very large," Streicher said. "These are fairly common—it's not cancer, it's not serious."

Sometimes a cyst becomes infected, and becomes an abscess. In that case, Streicher said, you'll be in quite a bit of pain. If you feel a painful bump on the inside of your vagina, see your doctor. They'll be able to rule out the possibility that it's anything else, and then drain and treat the infection.

You've got a skin condition.

Just as you can get dermatologic conditions like psoriasis and eczema everywhere else on your body, you can also get them on the vulva. These don't always cause bumps—mainly dryness and itching—but they can. Streicher said a dermatologist or gynecologist should be able to diagnose and treat any skin conditions on the pubic area, but a dermatologist may be your better bet for a first stop. And double check with a physician before using steroid cream or lotion you use on the rest of your body in your pubic area—it's a sensitive spot and may require milder or different medication.

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Also, just like you can get derm conditions on your vulva, you can also get... pimples! You know by now what a pimple looks and feels like (sometimes a little painful, always annoying). Just like the ones on your face, don't mess with popping a vulva pimple. And if a bump you suspect to be a pimple doesn't go away in a week or so, or gets bigger and more painful rather than smaller over time, it doesn't hurt to call your doctor.

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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.