Your [email protected] is a pretty strong body part—it can squeeze a human out of it, after all. But the [email protected] and v#lva also have some of the most sensitive, delicate skin on your body. If it makes contact with the wrong substances, you could find yourself dealing with an allergic reaction.
“The [email protected] mucosa, inside the [email protected], is actually very porous, meaning it absorbs a lot of materials,” explains Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob-gyn and minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “If you’re putting things in there that you’re allergic to or that are unsafe, you may be exposing yourself to more than you think because of how readily it’s absorbed—and that can lead to a really uncomfortable reaction.”
An allergic reaction in your [email protected] or on your v#lva shares a lot of symptoms with yeast or bacterial infections and even some STIs: itching, redness, irritation, and sometimes discharge. The difference lies in the duration. “With an allergy, the symptoms will manifest almost immediately after the point of contact,” says Dr. Shepherd.
While they can be annoying and uncomfortable (and seriously kill the mood), most skin allergies are not serious; they can be treated with OTC allergy creams or a cool bath. But if your symptoms are not going away or get worse, call your doc to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, brush up on these potential allergens that could wreak havoc on your nether regions.
Yep, you can actually be allergic to your partner’s sp3rm—it’s called seminal plasma hypersensitivity, says Dr. Shepherd. “Usually when we see patients with this, they have what we call a Type I reaction: After exposure to [email protected], they have severe itching and swelling at point of contact; in rare cases, it can escalate to a higher-grade anaphylaxis reaction,” she says. (Anaphylaxis is a serious medical emergency and can be lethal.)
“If you suspect sp3rm is to blame, your doctor can perform a skin prick test (the same way you would with an allergy like to peanuts or pollen) to determine which specific immunoglobulin you’re sensitive to,” she explains. If it is a sp3rm allergy, you’re not resigned to a life of s.e.x with condoms…or no p3netration at all. Research shows that most people can be desensitized to the allergy through a series of injections.
Latex is made from rubber tree fluids, and it can contain certain proteins that might clash with your immune system. Signs include localized itching, rashes, or hives, “but you could experience a more generalized reaction like anaphylaxis,” says Dr. Shepherd.
Fortunately, less than 1% of the general population in the United States has an allergy to latex, according to the American Latex Allergy Association. If you’re part of that unlucky group, “there are plenty of latex-free options,” advises Dr. Shepherd. “There are [commercially available condoms] made from polyisoprene, polyurethane, and AT-10, a synthetic polyethylene resin.” Sheepskin or lambskin condoms are also readily sold in drugstores, although these aren’t as protective against s.e.xually transmitted infections, she adds.
Many varieties of condoms are pre-coated with sp3rmicide, a chemical designed to kill sp3rm. If it’s not the sp3rm itself or the latex in the condom that’s the culprit, your allergic reaction could be triggered by the sp3rmicide coating. It could also be caused by sp3rmicide you insert into your [email protected] before s.e.x in the form of a foam or dissolvable film.
“There are a lot of active compounds in sp3rmicide, from benzocaine, a local anesthetic, to nonoxynol-9, an organic compound,” says Dr. Shepherd. “Any of those compounds can cause g3nital soreness and irritation.” If your [email protected] itching and burning can be attributed to sp3rmicide, start using condoms without it or go with another method of protection. (It’s not like sp3rmicide alone is super effective pregnancy protection anyway; 28 out of every 100 women who rely on it will conceive within a year of use.)
Fragrant or deodorant feminine products
You should already know this, but your [email protected] does not need douches, intimate sprays, or [email protected] wipes to be clean and healthy. These and other feminine hygiene products can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria inside your [email protected], says Dr. Shepherd, potentially triggering an infection.
The fragrances added to many of these items can also leave you with an allergic reaction in or around your [email protected] area. “There are so many ingredients in those products, and any one of them can affect your [email protected] just like they would any other part of your skin,” she explains. You could get tested by an allergist to find out exactly what compound isn’t agreeing with your vag, but your best bet is to simply nix the offending product entirely.
Before you scoff at the idea of using dye on your pubes (dying pub!c hair is a thing, people really do it), you should know that you can find dye in plenty of products that affect your [email protected] area, from soaps and bath bombs or bubble baths to toilet paper. “There can be a lot of chemicals in those products that are not good at all,” confirms Dr. Shepherd. If you can trace your [email protected] symptoms back to the dye in one of these products, just stop using it.