We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Genital sores in females have a number of potential causes. The most common are sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including herpes.
Genital sores due to STIs tend to be painful and itchy. They can appear as one or multiple sores. These are the most common type of genital sores, and they can be very contagious.
Some bumps on the vulva and inside the vagina are painless, while others may be itchy, painful, or tender. Some may produce discharge.
It can be very difficult to tell the difference between STIs that cause genital sores. For this reason, anyone with genital sores should see a doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment. For a picture guide to help identify common STIs, click here.
Genital herpes is a viral STI that causes outbreaks of blisters on the genitals. In the United States, this common infection affects more than 1 in 6 people aged 14–49. It is a common cause of genital sores.
When someone has an outbreak of genital herpes, they will develop one or more small blister-like lesions around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break open and cause painful genital sores. The sores usually take a week or more to clear up.
Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or mild symptoms, so most people do not know that they have it. This makes it easy to transmit from person to person.
Genital herpes is not currently curable, but the number of outbreaks tends to reduce over time. People can shorten outbreaks using medications, and some drugs can greatly reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to sexual partners.
Syphilis is another STI, this time characterized by one or more painless ulcers called chancres. They are usually firm and round.
Syphilis is caused by bacteria known as Treponema pallidum. Chancres tend to appear 10–90 days after exposure to the bacteria.
The ulcers typically resolve within 3–6 weeks. However, without treatment, syphilis may cause serious complications.
A course of intravenous penicillin G can treat syphilis. After treatment, a person may need to undergo another test to make sure that the infection has cleared up.
Chancroid is an STI characterized by painful genital ulcers and painful, swollen lymph glands in the groin area. It is caused by bacteria called Haemophilus ducreyi.
Without treatment, the ulcers may last for 1–3 months.
It may take 4–10 days after sexual contact to develop chancroid, though it can take as long as 35 days.
Once treatment has begun, symptoms tend to improve within 3 days, and the infection usually clears up within 7 days. Large ulcers may need around 2 weeks to heal.
Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious skin infection that causes small lesions or bumps to develop on the thighs, buttocks, groin, and lower abdomen.
The lesions can also appear on the genitals and around the anus and can develop into larger sores that become itchy or tender. They can be flesh colored, gray-white, yellow, or pink.
The lesions may last from 2 weeks to 4 years.
Most lesions heal naturally, though they may come back. Doctors can remove them to prevent them from spreading to others.
Granuloma inguinale is an STI that causes deep red ulcers that bleed. However, these ulcers tend to be painless. The infection is caused by bacteria called Klebsiella granulomatis.
Granuloma inguinale is rare in the U.S.
Although most genital sores occur due to STIs, there are several potential non-STI causes. In very rare cases, genital sores may develop due to cancer, or they may be harmless cysts that a doctor can remove.
Some other non-STI causes of female genital sores include:
Non-sexually acquired genital ulceration
Non-sexually acquired genital ulceration (NSAGU) is a condition that causes painful ulcers to develop around the genitals. Recurrent cases are more common in females than males.
The ulcers can appear as single or multiple shallow, round sores. In females, they can appear continuously or infrequently, or they may appear regularly, such as before menstruation each month.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic condition that causes pus filled bumps, hard bumps, or open wounds that do not drain. These bumps and wounds can appear on and under the skin.
The bumps tend to occur in areas where the skin rubs together, such as the groin and armpits. They can be large and painful.
Pustular psoriasis, for example, causes white, pus filled blisters that can burst and become open sores. When the blisters disappear, the skin may become scaly.
Guttate psoriasis, on the other hand, causes small dot-like lesions across the skin.
Behcet’s disease is a rare inflammatory condition that causes ulcers on the mouth and genitals, skin lesions, and eye abnormalities.
The ulcers are usually round or oval with reddish borders. In females, they tend to affect the vulva. They usually heal within a few days, but they can appear and recur spontaneously.
Healthcare professionals do not know the cause of Behcet’s disease, but it is likely linked with genetics.
Other factors can also cause genital sores, including physical or sexual trauma.
If a person experiences or suspects sexual assault, they can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline on 800.656.HOPE (4673) or speak to a healthcare professional.
Because there are a variety of potential causes of female genital sores, it is important to visit a doctor for a diagnosis as soon as possible. This will ensure that a person receives the right treatment.
To determine the cause of the sores, a doctor will carry out a physical exam. They may also need to perform other tests, such as taking blood samples or a swab from the affected area.
Using barrier methods, such as condoms, during sexual activity is the only way to prevent STIs. Condoms are available to purchase over the counter and online.
To prevent transmitting STIs such as herpes and syphilis to a sexual partner, a person should not engage in any sexual contact during an outbreak of one of these conditions. They should refrain from sex until the symptoms have subsided.
Most causes of genital sores are easily treatable using medications. When a bacterium causes the sores, a short course of antibiotics will usually clear up the infection.
Some conditions, such as herpes, are lifelong, and people will experience breakouts from time to time. If someone begins to experience breakouts, they should see their doctor.
It is important to understand what is causing the problem to know how to treat it. A person should therefore see a doctor at the first sign of a genital sore.