There are a few different kinds of infections or irritations you can get on your vulva or vagina. When the vulva or vagina gets irritated, it’s called vaginitis.
Symptoms of vaginitis may include itching and burning in your vulva or vagina, redness, vaginal discharge that is different than normal (strong odor, white or green color, very thick or foamy), pain during sex or masturbation, burning when you pee, and/or feeling like you have to pee often. Everyone’s body is different, so people don’t always have the same symptoms. And which symptoms you have often depend on what’s causing the problem.
Sometimes vaginitis is caused by a reaction or allergy to something that irritates your genitals (like perfumed soap or scented tampons). If this is the case, usually the symptoms will go away when you stop using whatever’s irritating you. If symptoms don’t go away or get worse, you should see a doctor or nurse to find out what’s going on.
Other times vaginitis happens when the environment inside your vagina gets thrown off balance. This can make the natural yeast or bacteria that live in healthy vaginas grow too much and cause yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. Yeast infections usually cause thick, white discharge, and may be itchy and uncomfortable. Bacterial vaginosis can also be itchy or painful, and you may notice more discharge than normal with a strong, fishy smell. Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can be cured with medication, so make sure to see a nurse or doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
It’s also common for people with vulvas to get infections in their urethra (the tube that carries pee from your bladder out of your body). This is called a urinary tract infection, or UTI. UTIs happen when certain bacteria get into your urethra and cause an infection. The most common symptoms for UTIs are pain or burning when you pee, and feeling like you need to pee all the time. Just like with other bacterial or yeast infections, UTIs can usually be fixed pretty quick with some antibiotics from the doctor.
Finally, some infections are passed during sex. These are called sexually transmitted infections, commonly known as STDs. There are many STDs with different symptoms. But most of the time people with STDs don’t have any symptoms at all (or don’t really notice them), so they may not even know they have one. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. The best way to avoid STDs is to not have any oral, anal, or vaginal sex. If you do have sex, using condoms can reduce your chances of getting STDs. And getting tested regularly (at least once a year) will help you stay healthy.