WTF Is That Bump On Your Vagina?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
One of the more intimate things I've ever done for myself was check out my vulva with a hand mirror in college. I'd just watched an episode of Sex and the City where the girls suggest Charlotte take a peek at hers after suffering from "a depressed vagina." But when I peeked at mine, I didn't see the signs of depression; I saw a UB — or, an unidentified bump. I WebMDed "weird bump on vagina" and immediately convinced myself I had about six different STIs.

After an emergency visit to my gynaecologist, I learned two things: that the UB was, in fact, a skin tag, and that Google is the devil when it comes to self-diagnosis. It turns out that skin tags are actually quite common. "They're frequently found in areas of rubbing and friction, the groin being one of them," said Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York. "They tend to be a soft polyp with the narrowest area being right where it emerges from the skin." So, if your underwear is a little too tight, you could wind up with a skin tag along your bikini line.

But skin tags aren't the only UBs you can get around your vulva. The area is also a breeding ground for ingrown hairs, moles, and cysts, Dr. Graf explains. "Other bumps tend to be more dome-shaped, with the widest area at the base of the skin," she says. "These include ingrown hairs, moles, and cysts." Ingrown hairs are typically red, inflamed, and associated with hair removal. Moles look similarly on the vulva as they do on the rest of the skin. And cysts tend to be round, flesh-toned, or nestled under the top layer of skin. While some lumps and bumps can be caused by friction or shaving, they can also be genetic. "Some families are prone to skin tags that can be present anywhere on the body," Parker says.

It's not a great idea to self-diagnose your bumps, says Erica Parker, celebrity aesthetician and director of education at Michael Todd Beauty. "Sometimes what looks to be a skin tag could be something more serious, or vice versa," she says. "Your Ob/Gyn and dermatologist are trained to diagnose lumps and bumps. They can help you decipher what is going on and discuss the best ways to treat the condition." Parker says that anything new that lasts more than two weeks warrants a doctor's visit — so don't let things stew for too long.

You also definitely shouldn't try to remove things on your own — especially in a sensitive area like your vulva. But there are treatment options once you get to the doctor. "Skin tags can be removed either by snipping them at the base, or, if small enough, they can be cauterised by electricity transmitted through a small needle," Dr. Graf says. If an ingrown hair doesn't clear up on its own, she says that a doctor can inject it with some cortisone. Moles and cysts are best left alone, as they tend to be benign and the removal can do more harm than good. "Warts can be cut, frozen, or cauterised," Dr. Graf says. But again — leave it to the professionals. Over-the-counter wart removers have no place near your vagina.

But the worst thing you can do, according to Parker, is pull a stunt like I did and Google the shit out of your symptoms. "Do not scour the internet trying to self-diagnose," she says. "You are only going to freak yourself out." You should also put the hand mirror down until you get a pro to diagnose you. Look too carefully, and the bump can look bigger than it actually is.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that most people with a vagina will get a weird bump around it every once in a while. And you should pat yourself on the back for paying attention to your bits. It's important to be well-acquainted with yourself in order to keep a clean bill of sexual health. And until you get a firm answer, remember this: "Take a deep breath," Parker says. "You're going to be okay." Oh, and if you are indeed suffering from a sad vagina? Nothing an orgasm a day can't fix. Doctor's orders.
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