If sex burns, there must be an infection

(Written 5/99 for an online women's health magazine www.herhealth.com)

Darlene couldn't wait to be called in... She threw herself into the chair and blurted out: "I had to stop sex last night because it burned, so I must have an infection"...

This is not an unusual statement by women. The first available explanation to feeling burning and/or itching in the genital area is the presence of an infection, which will usually prompt an immediate call to the gynecologist or a frantic trip to the drug store to buy one of the over-the-counter preparations. The sense of urgency behind the associated symptomology will be scary and disruptive to the woman & her body as well as to her intimate partner.

However, the good note is that this symptomology may not always be an infection, but rather an irritation! The sad note is that the rush to apply medications may result in unnecessary pharmacological intervention and in the risk of recurrence. A careful evaluation of the problem by way of verbal assessment and physical examination will help differentiating between an infection and an irritation, thus guiding toward proper care.

Genital (and groin) irritation may be a result of numerous causes, including:

  • Excessive sweating with insufficient ventilation, with the moisture and warmth allowing for skin irritation, heat rashes or yeast/fungal growth. Common causes may be wearing heavy clothing, cycling, running, wearing a wet bathing suit for a long time while sweating, hot flashes associated with menopausal changes, etc. Suggested solution: Prevention! Additionally, dusting the external skin and groin area with Zeasorb-AF powder may be of great help.
  • Wearing tight clothing such as tight jeans with the seam cutting and rubbing against genital area.
  • Skin "burns" associated with sanitary pads that are overdue for changing...
  • Increased sugar intake, such as sweets, grapes, dried fruit, wine, etc.
  • Menopausal changes, causing thinning of the vaginal lining and increased vaginal dryness, promoting easier chaffing and friction irritations.
  • Prolonged/repeated use of antibiotics, affecting the healthy balance of the "good" and "bad" bacteria in the genital area and promoting chaffing.
  • Vaginal friction, due to tampon insertion, intercourse into a dry vagina, or prolonged thrusting during intercourse to the point of vaginal dryness. Suggestions: apply a drop of K-Y Jelly onto the tip of the tampon before insertion, switch to sanitary pads if your flow is light/minimal, apply lubricating gel inside the vagina before intercourse and re-apply as soon as you feel skin chaffing. Do not hesitate to ask your partner to withdraw and allow you to take care of your body. Remember: he doesn't feel your pain!

Befriend your body. And, when you feel pain, don't get frightened as our patient did but try to get an understanding of what might have caused it. Learning about the body and listening to it will help you prevent irritations and unnecessary complications!