Minor vaginal wounds are usually harmless, but they may cause mild pain and discomfort for a day or two before they heal, particularly during urination and bathing or showering. Some minor cuts or tears may also bleed lightly for a short period.
More severe cuts or tears can require medical attention, especially those that are deep, will not stop bleeding, or do not heal with proper self-care.
In this article, we discuss some common causes of vaginal cuts and tears. We also cover treatment, prevention, and when to see a doctor.
Sometimes, sexual activity can result in vaginal tears.
Sexual activity is a common cause of vaginal tears. A penis, finger, or another object that a person inserts into the vagina can damage its delicate tissues.
Following sexual activity that causes vaginal tears, a person may also have minor bruising in the pelvic region and vaginal soreness that lasts for a few days.
Factors that may increase the likelihood of vaginal tears during sexual activity include:
- rough or vigorous thrusting of an object into the vagina
- vaginal dryness
- vulvovaginal atrophy, a condition in which the vaginal tissues become drier, thinner, and less elastic
- vaginal scarring or tissue damage, for example, from surgery, pelvic radiation therapy, or congenital abnormalities
- certain skin conditions, such as eczema, lichen planus, or psoriasis
- some medications, including corticosteroids
Removing pubic hair with a razor is another common cause of vaginal cuts or tears. Waxing can also cause noticeable skin tears or cuts.
According to a 2017 study, about 25% of people injure themselves while grooming their pubic hair. Individuals with skin conditions may be more prone to cuts and wounds during hair removal.
In addition to larger cuts or tears, all forms of hair removal can cause microscopic wounds. These tiny wounds are still large enough to allow germs to enter the body so they may increase the risk of skin infection.
Vaginal delivery can lead to severe cuts and tears.
Vaginal delivery can cause more severe cuts or tears inside the vagina. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 53–79% of women who deliver vaginally develop lacerations, or cuts.
Cuts or tears from vaginal deliveries can be painful and may make it difficult for a woman to walk or sit for a few days. More severe cuts or tears can be very painful and may bleed. The perineum, which is the space between a person’s anus and vulva, is also typically swollen and sore for a few weeks.
Cuts and tears compromise the skin barrier, which makes it easier for germs to enter the body and cause an infection. Keeping the area around a vaginal cut clean and dry can help prevent skin infections.
Some general suggestions for treating vaginal cuts and tears include:
- washing the hands with soap and running water for 15–30 seconds before touching the wound
- washing the affected area daily with warm water and a mild, unscented soap or cleanser
- making sure that the affected area is completely dry before getting dressed
- avoiding soaking the affected area
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce discomfort
- applying a covered ice pack to the area to reduce inflammation and discomfort
- using a peri bottle during and after urination to minimize pain
- avoiding getting any paper towel in the wound
- using a pillow if sitting is uncomfortable
- applying witch hazel to a sanitary napkin to reduce discomfort
- avoiding using products inside the vagina
- avoiding harsh or scented products that can interfere with the acidic pH of the vagina
While vaginal cuts or tears are healing, a person may wish to avoid sexual activities that involve the vagina. Wearing loose-fitting underwear made of natural materials, such as cotton or bamboo, for a few days may also help.
It is not always possible to prevent vaginal cuts and tears. However, depending on the cause, a person can take some steps to reduce the risk of vaginal wounds.
Ways to lower the risk of vaginal cuts and tears during sex include:
- using a water- or silicone-based lubricant
- setting aside time for sex to ensure that no participant is anxious, rushed, or too tired
- making time for foreplay and arousal
- telling a sexual partner about pain and stopping if the pain becomes too severe
- emptying the bladder before sex
- having a warm bath before sex to relax the vaginal muscles
People using condoms should not use mineral oil, baby oil, or petroleum jelly as a sexual lubricant because these products can damage latex.
Regular vaginal intercourse helps keep the vaginal tissues elastic and strong, which can make vaginal cuts and tears less likely.
To prevent cuts and injuries while trimming or shaving pubic hair, the American Academy of Dermatology suggest:
- avoiding distractions and not letting the mind wander while shaving
- wetting the skin and hair before shaving
- using shaving creams or gels
- using a clean razor with a sharp blade
- rinsing the razor clean after each stroke
- shaving in the direction of hair growth
- standing up while trimming or shaving and avoiding lying down
- trimming or shaving oneself as someone else cannot feel what is happening
- storing razors in a cool, dry place
- throwing away disposable razors after five to seven uses
- being extra cautious and shaving lightly when going over acne sores or scars
The following tips can help prevent vaginal tears while waxing:
- making sure that the area is clean, dry, and free of any irritation, wound, or sore
- applying the wax in the direction of hair growth and removing it in the opposite direction
- keeping the skin taut when applying and removing the wax
Cuts or tears are a fairly inevitable consequence of vaginal delivery. However, healthcare professionals may use certain techniques to help prevent these injuries, including:
- perineal massage to reduce muscular resistance, either during the second stage of labor or shortly after delivery
- applying warm compresses to the perineal area while a woman pushes during labor
Doctors are also reconsidering the safety and effectiveness of episiotomy, which is a procedure that involves making a deep cut during delivery to enlarge the woman’s birth canal.
When to see a doctor
A doctor can assess vaginal cuts or tears that do not heal.
Minor vaginal cuts or tears are generally harmless and usually heal quickly without treatment. However, more severe cuts or tears can lead to complications, such as substantial blood loss and infections.
It is important to see a doctor for vaginal cuts or tears that:
- bleed excessively or do not stop bleeding after 10 minutes of applying firm, direct pressure
- are large, deep, or numerous
- have rugged edges
- do not heal within a few days
- get worse
- cause concern or distress
People with vaginal cuts or tears should seek immediate medical care if they also have any of the following symptoms:
- fever or chills
- discolored or foul-smelling discharge
- a general feeling of being unwell
- numbness or tingling
- feeling faint or losing consciousness
People who frequently experience painful or large vaginal cuts or tears should discuss their symptoms with a doctor to identify possible underlying conditions.
Sexual abuse, assault, or rape can cause vaginal cuts or tears of varying severity.
People who have experienced sexual violations should talk to a doctor as soon as possible or seek emergency care.
Adults should also speak with a doctor about any unexplained or concerning vaginal cuts or tears in children or infants.
Vaginal cuts or tears can occur during pubic hair removal and sexual activity. Vaginal delivery during childbirth can also cause wounds in the tissues inside and surrounding the vagina.
Minor vaginal cuts or tears can cause pain and discomfort, but they generally heal without treatment within a few days. Keeping the affected area clean and dry can help the wounds heal and prevent infection.
More significant cuts or tears may require medical attention. See a doctor if the cuts are deep, numerous, or do not stop bleeding.