Sores on vaginal area — Scared to visit a health care provider

Dear Alice,

I'm a 20-year-old college student and have had quite a few sexual partners. I have noticed between my vaginal area, and the (excuse the use of words) butt hole, a group of sores. I haven't really been using protection the way I should and I am kind of scared to go see a health care provider. I thought it might be genital warts. I was wondering if you could give me some key symptoms to look for that are sexually transmitted related.

Dear Reader,

Seeing a provider when you are concerned about your health can feel scary. This is not an uncommon sensation. Some people are afraid that their suspicions of being diagnosed with an STI will be confirmed. Others are embarrassed because they think that the provider will pass judgment on them. Remember, though, getting an STI is not your fault. It takes courage to see someone when you feel so vulnerable. Make an appointment with a provider you feel comfortable with, or with one at your student health service. When you call to make your appointment, as difficult as it could be, mention that you are concerned about possibly having an STI so that you can be seen quickly.

It sounds as though you noticed sores on your perineum — the area between the vulva and the anus. While you may have increased your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by not using protection consistently, it's important to take care of your sexual health by visiting a health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. As you probably know, there are several different STIs — genital warts and herpes are two types that can cause sores on or around the genitals. Since genital sores are diagnosed by visual examination, it is important to visit a provider when you have them.

For women, genital warts — which are caused by certain strains of HPV (human papillomavirus) — can appear on or around the vulva, anus, vagina, and cervix. (Other strains of HPV on the cervix can cause cell changes that sometimes lead to cervical cancer. Because these types don't usually have symptoms, they are diagnosed by a pap smear rather than a visual exam.) Generally, warts are painless growths that range from hard to flaky in texture — similar to warts that may develop on other parts of the body, such as the hands or feet. When they are found on the moist tissue of the body, they tend to be white, pink, or even gray. In drier areas, they tend to be hard and yellow-gray in color. They can also have a cauliflower-like appearance.

Herpes — another viral STI — can surface in the same areas HPV does, as well as on the mouth. For some people, an outbreak begins with a tingling or itchy sensation. Other people may not experience any symptoms. In the genital area, herpes appear as one or more red bumps that become watery blisters within a couple of days. Shortly afterwards, the sores erupt and leave shallow ulcers that may ooze, weep, or bleed. It is not unusual for herpes sores to be painful (depending on the location).  Usually a scab will form after three or four days, and the sores will heal themselves without treatment. Both genital warts and herpes are tricky STIs because the virus can be present and infectious even if a person does not have any symptoms or doesn't know if they have the disease.

Regardless of the diagnosis, you can learn from this experience. Using protection each and every time can minimize your risk of getting an STI, or the risk of passing an STI to someone else, even unknowingly. Hopefully your visit to your health care provider will provide you with the information and treatment you need to take care of your health now and in the future.

Best of luck,

Last updated Jun 16, 2015
Originally published Sep 07, 2001

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