Vulvar Vestibulitis

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on August 08, 2022
3 min read

Vulvar vestibulitis, also known as VVS, is a type of vulvodynia, or pain around the vulva -- the sex organs outside a woman’s body. The pain is in your vestibule, the part of your vulva around the opening of your vagina. It can cause redness and irritation of the skin and pain in the glands inside the skin. This condition is also called “vestibulodynia” or “localized provoked vulvodynia.”

There are two main types of VVS: primary and secondary. If you have the primary type, you have pain when you first use tampons, have a vaginal exam with a speculum, or start being sexually active. The secondary type begins after you’ve had sex without pain for a while.

Symptoms can be different for every woman. They may be mild or serious enough to interfere with your life. Symptoms can be constant, or they can come and go. They include:

  • Pain from pressure (sitting, biking, working out, tight clothes, touch)
  • Pain from sex or using a tampon
  • A burning feeling
  • Stinging
  • Feeling raw
  • Peeing a lot, or suddenly feeling like you have to pee
  • An unusual or irritating vaginal discharge
  • Small red spots around the vestibular glands (just inside the opening to your vagina)

Usually, itching isn’t a symptom.

Vulvar vestibulitis can take a toll on your sex life and relationships. When you try to have sex, the muscles in your pelvis can tense up, making it hurt more. The pain may make you not want to have sex.

Any woman can get vulvar vestibulitis. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex or not, or how old you are. Your risk may be higher if you:

  • Have human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Have a bacterial or yeast infection
  • Have a sensitivity to products like soaps or douches
  • Have interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) or endometriosis
  • Have problems with the muscles that support your bladder, uterus, vagina, or rectum
  • Use harsh detergents s or soaps
  • Use certain spermicides and lubricants
  • Have gone through menopause
  • Are under a lot of stress

Your doctor will look for redness around your vulva. They’ll use a cotton swab to touch different parts of your vulva to see where it hurts. They might also ask questions about your family medical history and run tests to make sure you don’t have an infection.

Once your doctor gives you a diagnosis, there’s a lot you can do to manage your symptoms, including:

  • Try different detergents.
  • Use a mild soap.
  • Don’t use scented pads or tampons.
  • Don’t wear tight clothes.
  • Wear clothes that breathe, such as cotton.
  • Avoid activities that may irritate your vulva, like biking.
  • Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.
  • Try witch hazel pads or cold compresses.
  • Pour lukewarm water over your vulva after you pee.
  • Soak in a lukewarm bath with 4-5 tablespoons of baking soda for 10-15 minutes, and do it up to three times a day. But avoid hot tubs and hot baths.
  • Use petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening (Crisco) on your skin to keep it moist.

If these self-care measures don’t help, your OB/GYN has other options, including:

You may have to try a few different treatments until you find one that helps most. You might also have to use more than one treatment at a time.