The skin of your vagina is the most delicate of your entire anatomy. No wonder it’s such a target for issues and infections, from zit breakouts to razor rash to more serious things, such as STDs like herpes and genital warts.
So when a suspicious bump, spot, or lump suddenly shows up down below, how can you determine if it’s okay to blow off...or if it’s something major that might pose a threat to your sexual health? The only way to know 100 percent for sure is to see your gyno for tests. But when that’s not possible or you’re too crazy panicked to get dressed and hightail it to her office, suss things out by taking inventory with these three questions.
1. Does the Bump Hurt—and How Badly?
“If it’s a mild kind of discomfort or it’s more tender to the touch than truly painful, it’s probably a harmless whitehead or an ingrown hair,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of ob-gyn at the Yale School of Medicine. “Genital warts don’t cause pain either, but the worry is herpes—the blisters that characterize a herpes outbreak hurt really badly, and they can even burn when you urinate.” If the pain is nuts, your doc needs to check you out.
2. Is the Bump Smooth or Jagged?
A smooth, painless bump jutting out from the skin is probably just a skin tag, says Minkin. This is a super common benign growth that often pops up along body regions where skin rubs against skin—like your groin and upper thighs. “If it juts out the same way yet feels jagged and rough, like cauliflower, it’s more likely to be a genital wart,” says Minkin. Caused by the HPV virus and transmitted via skin-on-skin sexual contact, genital warts won’t lead to anything more serious. But you still need to see your gyno and find out the best way to have it removed so you don’t spread it to anyone else.
3. Is the Bump Closed or Open?
One or several red bumps that are closed and remain closed until they heal are most likely razor bumps, a zit, or a rash triggered by an allergic reaction, says Minkin. If it’s a painless bump just beneath the skin on either side of the vagina, it could be a Bartholin’s cyst, which is caused by a clog in one of the glands that lubricate the vagina. It’s harmless, can be about the size of a pea, and often goes away on its own.
While herpes blisters start out as closed red bumps, within days they open and turn into moist, even oozy lesions before crusting over and healing. If that’s what you’re seeing, your doctor needs to know. She can test you and prescribe meds that will ease (but unfortunately not cure) the infection.