Bumps on the vagina and vulva (the external part of your genitals) are common and can be caused by various factors. Some causes are no big deal, but others are more serious. If you’re uncertain or concerned, getting tested and talking to a doctor is the best way to know what’s going on.
Vaginal bumps can vary greatly. You may notice a single bump or a cluster of bumps. Some are painful or itchy, while others are painless. Bumps may appear on the labia (the lips of the vagina) or elsewhere in the genital area, and have different colors like white, red, or skin-colored.
Getting tested is not only quick and easy, it’s the only way to know for sure if you do or do not have an STD.
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Certain STDs can cause vaginal lumps and bumps, including:
Genital herpes can cause pain, tingling, or itching, as well as outbreaks of red bumps that turn into blisters. These blisters rupture, ooze, or bleed, making urination painful. Then, crusty scabs form as the blisters heal. Outbreaks periodically flare up and heal, only to return later. Sometimes these signs may be mistaken for ingrown hairs or vaginal pimples.
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex virus. According to the CDC, more than one out of six people aged 14-49 have genital herpes.1 Herpes is spread through infected fluids and skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Getting tested is the best way to know if you have herpes. Although there is no cure for herpes, antiviral medication can shorten outbreaks and lessen their severity.
Syphilis is tricky. It goes through stages when there are no symptoms, so you or your partner(s) may not notice you have it. However, the main symptom of the first stage of syphilis is a highly contagious, firm, round, painless sore called a chancre, which is sometimes open and wet.
Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted disease. It is passed through direct contact with a syphilis sore, rash, or mucous membrane during oral, vaginal, or anal sex. If left untreated, syphilis can cause dangerous health complications, like blindness and potentially fatal organ damage, including brain damage. Getting tested regularly is important because if you catch the syphilis infection early, you can get it cured before it causes serious damage.2
Genital warts can appear as a single wart or a group of warts. They are flesh-colored and can be flat or bumpy like cauliflower.
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can be spread through skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some types of HPV are a risk factor for cancer. If you are concerned that you have HPV, talk to your doctor about getting a Pap test.3
Molluscum contagiosum is an infection that causes small, firm bumps on the skin. These bumps are usually painless, but they can be itchy or sore. You can get molluscum contagiosum through contact with infected skin, including during sex or when sharing toys or other objects.4
Other bumps are not transmitted during sex. These include:
Cysts are usually hard and painless unless they become infected. Many are small (although size can vary). Some cysts can contain pus, air, or scar tissue.
Your vulva and vagina have various types of glands, including Bartholin’s and Skene’s glands, which produce mucus and other lubricants. A vulvar cyst occurs externally when a gland gets clogged or when oil and dead skin cells accumulate under the hair follicle. A vaginal cyst occurs internally and is a sac-like pocket that projects from the ribbed vaginal wall.
Types of vaginal and vulvar cysts include:
Vaginal skin tags are soft, fleshy, and painless flaps on the skin that typically appear with age. These growths are noncancerous and harmless, although they can be irritated by friction.6
Fordyce spots are yellow-white, red, or skin-colored oil glands. These painless, harmless bumps can appear on the vulva. They can also appear on your face, on the cheek and lips. Although it’s unknown why Fordyce spots appear, these bumps are natural and noninfectious, and they don’t cause any negative health effects.7
Your hair removal method may cause painful, itchy bumps. An ingrown hair happens when a hair grows back into the skin instead of through the surface.8 Razor burn happens when shaving irritates the skin, especially if you shave without lubricant, shave too quickly, shave against the direction of the hair, or shave with old razors.
Vaginal bumps aren’t always a cause for alarm, but the only way to know for sure is to get tested and talk to a doctor. Often, bumps may go away on their own. If your bumps persist, grow, or cause pain or any other symptoms, you may require treatment.
If you are unsure why you have vaginal bumps, don’t be scared or embarrassed to seek help. Many people experience bumps, and doctors and healthcare services like ours are happy to give you peace of mind and help you with what’s going on.
To determine the cause of bumps or sores, doctors may ask you:
A doctor may perform a pelvic exam or swab a skin lesion, which can be used for a culture test. Certain STDs can be detected via blood and urine testing like ours, which don’t require you to get undressed in front of a physician. Through STDcheck.com, we provide STD testing that you can order online. Once you order your test, no appointment is needed and you can visit a lab near you for a quick sample collection.
If bumps don’t go away on their own, your treatment options depend on what the cause is. Don’t pop or pick at the bump because that may lead to irritation or infection.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for herpes but it’s treatable. It can be stressful to hear you have herpes, but many people have it and it’s easily manageable. If you have just had your first outbreak, know that it gets better. Generally, the first outbreak is the worst, and outbreaks become less frequent and less severe over time.
If you test positive, our doctors can help you by consulting and prescribing medication. Antiviral medicines help prevent or shorten outbreaks. Since active outbreaks make herpes transmission easier, herpes treatment makes it less likely you’ll spread herpes to your sex partner(s).
Syphilis is easily curable with penicillin, which kills the syphilis bacterium. Early stages generally need only a single shot of penicillin, while late latent syphilis may require more doses. If the infection is caught in the early stages and treated, it won’t cause any lifelong damage.9
Although there is no cure for HPV, genital warts can be removed by your physician using a prescription cream, laser, or surgery. Certain types of HPV are preventable through vaccination, including the ones that cause genital warts.
While some individuals may find treatment unnecessary, the CDC states treatment is usually recommended if lesions are in the genital area, since it can be spread through sexual contact. Molluscum contagiosum can be removed by your doctor through freezing, draining, or using a laser. While you have bumps, you can spread it. Once the bumps are gone, the virus is no longer in your body, but you can get it again if you are exposed in the future.
Some cysts may go away without treatment. Taking shallow, warm sitz baths just up to the hips (three times daily for several days) can help a cyst heal. If cysts are big, if they remain for a long time, or if they become infected, talk to your doctor to see if you need antibiotics, draining/removal, and follow up.10
Because skin tags are typically harmless, treatment isn’t usually necessary. That being said, some people prefer to have them removed for cosmetic reasons or to avoid rubbing and irritation against clothes. If you find a skin tag annoying, talk to your doctor about removing it. They can cut it out with a scalpel (excision), cut off the tag’s blood supply (ligation), burn the tag off (cauterization), or freeze it off (cryosurgery).
Fordyce spots don’t need treatment, but if you want to remove the spots for aesthetic reasons, you can discuss your options with your doctor. Removal procedures include cauterization and lasers, although these methods may cause scarring.
Ingrown hairs and razor burn usually go away on their own. Stopping hair removal and using a warm compress can help soothe the area. If an ingrown hair becomes infected, talk to your health care provider, who may prescribe ointments or antibiotics.
While some bumps are avoidable, others occur naturally or are hard to prevent. To avoid infections or irritation which can lead to bumps, you can: