What causes itching after sex?
In this article, we look at the possible causes of genital itching in females and males and discuss the treatment options.
Causes in males and females
Some causes of genital itching after sex are the same, regardless of biological sex. Some of the symptoms, however, can differ. Below, we discuss allergies and infections that can affect both males and females.
A latex allergy may be the cause of itching after sex.
A latex allergy means that the immune system reacts strongly to any product containing latex. Latex condoms or lubricants that contain latex can cause uncomfortable symptoms in people with a latex allergy. These symptoms can include itching, redness, and swelling around the genital area after sexual activity.
People can try using latex free condoms and lubricants to see whether this relieves their symptoms.
Latex can cause three different allergic reactions:
- redness and irritation
- skin appearing scaly
Immediate allergic reaction
This type of reaction happens in people who have become sensitive to latex through previous exposure to it. Coming into contact with latex again triggers a response from the immune system, and people may experience:
In some cases, latex can cause anaphylaxis, which is a very severe allergic reaction. If a person notices any signs of anaphylaxis, they should seek immediate medical attention or call 911 or the local emergency number.
STIs often do not produce any symptoms, but they can sometimes cause vaginal or penile itching. This itching and any other symptoms, which depend on the type of STI, may take several days to appear.
Symptoms of STIs in females can include:
- unusual or increased discharge from the vagina
- unusual vaginal odor
- pain when urinating
- bleeding between periods
- fever and chills
- sores around the genitals or mouth
- pain in the rectum
Symptoms of STIs in males can include:
- unusual discharge from the penis, which may be yellow, green, or white
- pain when urinating
- in some cases, swollen or painful testicles
- sores or warts around the genitals or mouth
- flu-like symptoms
- pain in the rectum
Causes in females
As we discussed above, itching around the vulva or vagina after sex can be due to allergic reactions or STIs. Vaginal dryness, a vaginal infection, or sperm allergy can also cause genital itching specific to females. We look at these causes in more detail below.
A person with vaginal dryness may also experience a more frequent need to urinate.
Vaginal dryness can cause itchiness and pain in or around the vagina during or after sex. People may also have:
- soreness around the genitals
- a more frequent need to urinate
- repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Changes in hormone levels can create vaginal dryness. People may experience this if they:
- have gone or are going through menopause
- use hormonal birth control
- take antidepressants
- are having chemotherapy
- have had a hysterectomy
- are breastfeeding
Sexual intercourse can sometimes cause an imbalance in the pH balance and bacteria in the vagina. This imbalance can cause a yeast or bacterial infection.
A yeast infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida. People may also refer to it as vaginal thrush, vulvovaginal thrust, or candidiasis.
Along with itching, a vaginal yeast infection can cause:
- painful urination
- redness and swelling of the vagina and the area around the vulva
- a burning sensation
- painful sex, also called dyspareunia
- thick, white, odorless discharge that looks like cottage cheese
Bacterial infections arise from an overgrowth of bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal bacterial infection, which can cause:
- vaginal itching
- a fish-like odor from the vagina
- grey or white discharge
Sperm allergy mostly affects women and is also called semen allergy or seminal plasma hypersensitivity.
An allergy to the proteins present in semen can affect any part of the body that has contact with semen, including the vagina, skin, and mouth. It typically causes symptoms to develop within 10–30 minutes of the bodily contact.
In addition to itching genitals, sperm allergy can cause:
- a burning sensation
In more severe cases, people can also experience anaphylaxis from a sperm allergy.
Causes in males
As we mentioned earlier in the article, itching around the penis or testicles after sex can arise due to allergic reactions or STIs. Although it is uncommon, males may also develop thrush from sexual activity. A reaction to spermicide can also lead to genital itching. We look at these causes in more detail in the following sections.
Although yeast infections are less common in males than in females, males can also get thrush. Thrush can cause genital itching, and it has an association with sexual activity.
In males, thrush is sometimes called male candidiasis. It can affect the head of the penis and the foreskin, causing itching, soreness, and swelling. It sometimes also produces a thick, white, lumpy discharge.
Thrush can occur in males with a sexual partner who has vaginal candidiasis and in those with diabetes.
A reaction to spermicides
A reaction to spermicides is more common in males, but it can also affect females. Substances in spermicides can cause sensitivity or allergic reactions that can create an itching sensation around the genitals. Nonoxynol-9 is a chemical in spermicides that can irritate the genitals.
Irritation to the genitals can increase the risk of infections, including HIV and other STIs, entering the body.
Treatment and relief
Using a condom can prevent an allergic reaction to sperm. People can also receive treatment for a sperm allergy. A doctor or allergist will place some diluted semen into the vagina and then gradually increase the amount to allow the body to develop a tolerance.
For people with a sperm or latex allergy, a doctor may prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector, known as an EpiPen, in case of a severe allergic reaction.
If people have vaginal dryness, they can use a vaginal moisturizer. It is important to use a moisturizer that manufacturers designed specifically for this purpose and avoid putting any other lotions into the vagina.
Foreplay may increase arousal during sex, which may help reduce vaginal dryness.
If itching is due to a vaginal infection, a doctor may prescribe antifungal or antibiotic medication to treat the infection.
Anyone who thinks that they might have an STI should see a doctor, who will be able to diagnose the infection and provide medication to treat it.
Changing spermicides or switching to another form of birth control may help prevent itching after sex.
People may be able to help prevent an itching sensation after sex by doing the following:
- avoiding douching
- using nonlatex condoms if latex causes irritation
- using a water based lubricant before having sex
- changing spermicides or switching to another form of birth control
Stopping using other irritants that can cause itching of the genitals may also help. Try avoiding:
- vaginal deodorants or sprays
- scented sanitary products
- the use of perfumed soaps and chemical bathing products around the genitals
People can wash their genitals with mild soap and warm water to keep them clean. Females can wash the vulva and avoid washing inside the vagina.
Itching genitals after sex can be normal, and this symptom is often no cause for concern if it goes away shortly. However, if itching continues, it may be a sign of an allergy or infection.
A person should see their doctor if the itching does not go away or if they notice any unusual symptoms alongside it, such as:
- unexpected bleeding
- unusual discharge
- warts or sores around the genitals or mouth
- redness or swelling
- pain during sex or urination
If people have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, they should seek medical help immediately.