Chances are you are reading this right now because you felt a bump “down there” and are feeling a little concerned. 

Though we often think bump = very bad sign, the truth is that bumps in your genital region can be caused by a variety of things. Some are benign, and some are more serious. So, how can you tell what kind of bump you are dealing with? Keep reading. 

The Vaginal Area: Differences Between Vulva and Vagina

Before we dive into potential kinds of bumps, we need to go back to middle school health class and differentiate between the vulva and vagina.

Though people often use the word “vagina” to describe their entire genital area, the vagina is the internal canal leading to the cervix, meaning it’s on the inside of your body. The area outside your vagina that includes the labia, the clitoris, and the urethra is called the vulva. 

As you’ll see, certain kinds of bumps often appear in different locations, so it’s important to know the correct term for where your bumps are located to determine what is causing them and, ultimately, how to care for them

Conducting a Self-Assessment

While you may have felt a bump while washing yourself in the shower, it’s important to get up close and personal and see what it looks like…  which we know can be awkward! But trust us when we say it’s critical to put discomfort aside and take a good look at yourself.

To do a self-examination:

  • Grab a hand mirror and lie down on the couch
  • Look for areas that are red, as well as any sores, blisters, bumps, or warts
  • Separating your pubic hair so you can see the area underneath
  • Separate the lips of your vulva to examine the skin, the clitoris, and the opening of your vagina

Note where exactly the bumps are located, how many there are, what they look like, and how they feel to the touch. This is all information you will need to begin to discern what is going on and what you should do next. 

Understanding Normal Bumps and Non-STD Bumps

Like any other area of your skin, the skin around your genitals is prone to pimples, blocked sweat glands, and ingrown hairs. The bumps associated with these are all normal and not associated with a more serious issue like an STD. 

It’s also not uncommon to see what are known as Fordyce spots on the hairless parts of your vulva. These are essentially raised oil glands, and appear as small, slightly elevated, whitish bumps that are not painful to the touch. 

But there are other normal bumps you may encounter during your self-examination, too. Let’s go over the most common. 

Cysts: Bartholin’s and Gartner’s Duct Cysts

The word “cyst” sounds scary, but they are harmless, fluid-filled sacs that can develop on various parts of the body, including the vaginal area. There are 2 types of vaginal cysts: Barholin’s cysts and Gartner’s duct cysts. 

Bartholin’s cysts are found at the vaginal opening. They occur when the Barhtolin’s glands at the opening of the vagina become blocked for some reason. While not harmful, these cysts can be painful when walking or sitting. If you suspect you have Bartholin’s cysts that are causing you pain, talk to your doctor. They may suggest taking sitz baths or draining the cysts surgically, and if they are concerned the cysts are infected, they may prescribe antibiotics1

Unlike Bartholin’s cysts, Gartner’s duct cysts are located inside the walls of the vagina and are generally not painful unless they become large. If you are experiencing unexplained pain higher up in your reproductive system, like your ovaries, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out ovarian cysts

Contact Dermatitis: Allergic and Irritant

As you might imagine, the skin around your genitals is incredibly delicate and prone to irritation from products like scented soaps, scented hygiene products, and even certain laundry detergents2

If you are experiencing an allergic reaction to a particular product, you will generally experience symptoms like itching, redness, and swelling. With contact dermatitis or general irritation, you will notice red, damaged skin in the areas that directly touched the irritant. In their case, you need to do some digging to figure out what is causing the reaction so you can eliminate it. 

Ingrown Hair, Folliculitis, and Sebaceous Cyst

Redness, pain, or swelling around pubic hair follicles is generally related to shaving, waxing, or blockage of the sweat glands. 

If the cyst or ingrown hair is painful, you can use a warm compress to lessen the swelling or unblock the sweat gland, and you can prevent future ingrown hairs by practicing proper shaving techniques, which include shaving in the direction of hair growth (not against) and rinsing the blade after each stroke3

If the bumps don’t go away or you notice they become red or painful, they may be infected, in which case antibiotics are needed. 

Varicosities (Vaginal Varicose Veins)

Most people think about varicose veins on their legs, but varicose veins or enlarged veins can appear on the vulva or along the inner thighs. Generally, these enlarged veins are due to pregnancy or general circulatory issues, but other health issues like obesity, chronic constipation, and a family history of varicose veins can also put you at risk. 

While varicose veins can look alarming, they are often harmless. If you feel like they are leading to a feeling of heaviness, itching, or pain, talk to your doctor. They may suggest certain supportive garments or exercises to improve circulation and treat the varicose veins. If your varicose veins are due to pregnancy, most women notice they improve significantly following childbirth.   

Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen Sclerosus is not exactly bumps but rather areas of white, patchy skin that seem thinner than usual. The exact cause isn’t known, but there are certain genetic and hormonal factors at play, and it is most commonly diagnosed in postmenopausal women. 

If your Lichen Sclerosus is particularly itchy or uncomfortable or causing pain during sex, talk to your doctor. There are treatment options available, like topical corticosteroids3.  

Skin Tags

Skin tags can appear anywhere on the body where there is friction or skin rubbing together. They look like soft, skin-colored growths and are harmless and painless. However, if you are concerned about their appearance, you can talk to your doctor about potential removal.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum is a viral infection caused by a poxvirus (yes, like chicken pox) that causes pearly white bumps on the abdomen, legs, arms, neck, face, and genital area. The bumps are usually small with a sort of dimple in the center and, like chicken pox, they can become itchy, though generally not painful. 

More often than not, the only way to get rid of Molluscum Contagiosum is to let it run its course, which can take several months or more, though treatments are available to resolve it faster. 

Until Molluscum Contagiosum resolves, avoid spreading it to others by covering the bumps with clothes or bandages, not sharing personal items, and practicing good hygiene4

Papule (Pimple on Labia)

If you notice something on your labia that looks a lot like a pimple… it just might be! And the causes of pimples on your labia are the same as the causes of pimples anywhere else, which means that changes to diet and cleansing the area with warm water and unscented soap (especially after working out) can reduce their frequency. 

If you feel like we still haven’t described the bumps you are experiencing, you may want to pursue STD testing from your doctor5, especially if your bumps look like blisters or warts. 

Genital herpes is an STD that leads to blister-like sores on the genitals, rectum, or mouth. This “outbreak” can also be accompanied by other symptoms, like

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Smelly vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods6

Genital warts are an STD caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV, which is the most common STI. While HPV has no symptoms, genital warts look like raised, cauliflower-like bumps on your genital area. These bumps can vary in size from small to large. 

Being STDs, neither genital herpes nor genital warts can be cured, but they can be managed with the help of your doctor, and frankly, they need to be to protect your health and the health of your sex partners. 

The Cervix and Its Normal Bumps

During your self-examination, you will not be able to see your cervix, as it is located at the base of your uterus  but while we are talking about bumps, we do want to mention that the cervix can have cysts, called Nabothian cysts, which are generally harmless. You will normally only know you have them through an annual pelvic exam. 

Vaginal Cancer and Bumps

No one wants to think about the C-word, but vaginal cancer is a reality, and oftentimes, the key symptoms include unusual vagina bumps, bleeding, or pain7.

 If you ever notice unusual bumps inside your vagina, please do not ignore them. While they are hopefully not a sign of cancer, if they are, you want to catch it sooner rather than later. 

When and Why You Should Contact a Healthcare Provider

If you are ever concerned about bumps on your vulva or vagina, you should always call your doctor — after all, that’s what they are there for! But you should especially seek a consultation with your healthcare provider if you feel like your bumps are persistent,  changing in appearance,  disruptive to your daily life, or accompanied by other STD symptoms. 

Support Your Vaginal Health: Consider Happy V’s Probiotics Vaginal Health Supplement

If you are reading this, it’s probably because you care about your health and your vaginal health in particular. One of the best ways you can care for your vaginal health is by supporting a healthy vaginal microbiome through daily probiotics. 
Happy V’s Prebiotic + Probiotic is doctor-formulated to support the balance of a healthy vaginal flora, which can help fight off vaginal infections and promote overall vaginal health.