No, this Entry has nothing to do with men!
Allergic Feminine Irritation, Pruritis vulvae, (hereafter called AFI), is a vaginal allergy to chemicals which can be introduced via tampons1, sanitary towels, non-pH-friendly soap, certain bath oils, bubble bath liquids and scented shower gels. Females who aren't menstruating are not immune, as they may be using perfumed panty liners. Minor fluctuations in the chemical balance used in the local water treatment system may also contribute.
AFI can make the vagina dry, itchy and sore. These symptoms are also common to another bugbear, a yeast infection commonly known as thrush. This is caused by Candida albicans, sometimes known as 'monilia'. Another organism that may be involved is Trichomonas vaginalis. Unfortunately, because they have such similarities, the problem can be misdiagnosed by the GP, who may issue unnecessary anti-fungal medication. Or the woman may be tempted to assume it's a bout of thrush, not want to bother her GP, and self-medicate with over-the-counter remedies. The problems will just return with each monthly cycle though, so it's important the root cause of the problem is treated to prevent recurrence.
A yeast infection is commonly accompanied by foul-smelling discharge while AFI is not, which can help determine the cause of irritation.
An uncomfortably sore vagina has other undesirable side-effects, including an aversion to sex, which can lead to relationship problems. For a woman to enjoy penetrative intercourse, her vagina needs to be moist. Natural lubrication occurs during foreplay, when the male should be concentrating on getting his partner aroused enough to receive him. It can be disconcerting and off-putting if the normal course of events isn't happening; he may assume she has 'gone off' him because she isn't getting aroused, but she may just be reluctant because the last time hurt.
Switch to sanitary products which are unbleached and unperfumed. If you are unsure which brand to choose, ask the advice of the in-store chemist.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Wear natural fibre cloth pants/shorts, etc.
- Don't wear tights. Wear stockings or crotchless tights instead.
- Use soap-free, unperfumed wash bars.
- Use a hypoallergenic, pH-balanced shower gel for the vaginal area.
- Avoid scented toilet wipes; go for the unfragranced, dermatologically-tested brand.
- A change in washing powders/liquids may also cause irritation, so it's worth switching back to your usual brand to check whether the new brand is the culprit. If you've used the same brand of laundry detergent for the last 20 years, it may still be the cause.
- On (a suitable) occasion, allow a free circulation of air - go knickerless - but do remember when you've 'gone commando' so you don't accidentally perform a Sharon Stone stunt2.
- Your doctor can prescribe a steroid cream or ointment which will make recovery much more comfortable.
What if it turns out to be the other way round? You cut out the perfumed products and so on, assuming that will do the job, and it was a yeast infection all along? Then you'll need to visit your GP or Health Provider to have a vaginal swab for testing, and to obtain the necessary medication (usually a pessary and tube of cream).