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6 Serious Sexual Health Symptoms for Women

What's normal and what may need a doctor's attention.

4. Itching continued...

Although genital itching isn’t likely to be serious, it’s still a good idea to tell your doctor if it’s bothersome. The fix might be simple.  

However, “if it’s itching and there are skin changes, that would be a worrisome sign,” Puritz says.

For example, a skin condition called lichen sclerosus can cause itching and small, white spots on the vulva. The spots grow into bigger patches that turn thin and crinkled. Lichen sclerosus is an uncommon problem that tends to affect older women, Puritz says.

“It’s something that needs to be medically treated,” she says. Left untreated, the patches can scar and create problems with urination or sex. There’s also a tiny chance that skin cancer may develop in the patches.

Aside from lichen sclerosus, any itchy lesion on the vulva or vagina may need to be biopsied to rule out cancer.

5. Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness in nursing mothers or postmenopausal women can cause spotting after intercourse. Once nursing moms start ovulating again, dryness will ease.

But “vaginal atrophy is really important, especially for postmenopausal women,” Shepherd says. Because older women have less estrogen, their vaginal tissue thins or atrophies and becomes dry and irritated. Osphena, an oral medication can make vaginal tissue thicker and less fragile, resulting in less painful sex for some women. Osphena is taken by mouth once a day.

Not only does vaginal dryness make sex painful, but vaginal thinning also leaves women more susceptible to infections. 

Women shouldn’t be embarrassed to mention vaginal dryness to their doctors, Shepherd says. Women may find relief with estrogen creams, rings, or tablets that are applied or inserted directly into the vagina. 

6. Sores or Lumps

Some women develop sebaceous cysts and skin tags in the groin area, or a pregnant woman may get varicose veins that feel like a lump on the vulva when she stands. “All would be very benign things,” Puritz says.

But some lumps or sores can be serious, so it’s prudent to have your doctor examine them. 

Sores in the genital area may point to herpes or cancer, Puritz says. Symptoms of cancer of the vulva include unusual lumps, wart-like bumps, or red, flat sores that don’t heal. Sometimes, the flat sores turn scaly or discolored.

Also, melanoma, a form of skin cancer, can occur on the vulva, Puritz says. Symptoms include bluish-black or brown, raised moles in the genital area, including the opening to the vagina. Patients are often surprised by the disease, she says. “They think that if there’s no sun exposure, you can’t get a melanoma.”

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Reviewed on April 11, 2011

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