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I found a small ulcer on my vulva. What is it?
Recently, it hurts to have intercourse with my boyfriend. We looked, and there is a small cut that looks like an ulcer on my vulva. What is it and how can I treat it? I don’t want to go to my doctor.
Terri Warren, MS, RN, ANP on September 16, 2011
Thanks so much for your question.
My first suggestion would be to see your regular doctor, as that’s the best way to find out the root cause of your discomfort. And if you're worried about going to a doctor that, perhaps, your whole family goes to (and the privacy issues that go with that), I would recommend that you seek out your local Planned Parenthood clinic or STD clinic. They often have sliding scales for payment and are used to diagnosing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs).
What could the ulcer on your vulva be? Well, it could be many different things, all of which need proper diagnosis and treatment. For example, it could be herpes or syphilis (although most syphilis lesions are not tender). Or it could be a skin fissure, a traumatic injury from prolonged or rough sex or even a fungal infection. But, again, there’s no reliable way to diagnose your symptom without a clinician visit or lab testing.
If you are set on not seeing a clinician, online STD testing is the next best thing. There are online services that allow you to order your own STD tests without going to a doctor’s office. At a minimum, I would suggest that you get an IgG herpes antibody test and a syphilis test. Generally speaking, if you’re worried about one STD, it makes sense to get tested for a full range of common STDs. The best services will match you up with a qualified doctor to interpret the results of your lab tests.
Should your boyfriend be tested, too? Absolutely. It’s possible that your symptoms are from a new infection that you caught from him. Even if you haven’t developed antibodies to a particular virus yet, if you got the disease from him, it’s possible that he will have antibodies that will register on a test.
Why are antibodies so important? Many STD tests screen for antibodies that your body has made in response to an infection...but it can take a while for the antibodies to be detected by a test. So, for example, if your boyfriend has had a herpes infection longer than you, his test may be positive before yours is.
Different tests require different amounts of time after exposure for the best results...but herpes and syphilis test results should be reliable between 6-12 weeks after possible exposure to these infections. You can learn more about when to get tested in our STD Testing Windows Guide.
Thanks again for sharing your question with us. Good luck and I wish you the best of health.
Warren is a Nurse Practitioner and owner of Westover Heights Clinic in Oregon. She is a renown expert and author in the field of genital herpes research, diagnosis and treatment. Warren was educated at Oregon Health and Sciences University and the University of Portland.