Sex is ... Irritating?

I have been sexually active for about three years now and have always had a problem with irritation after sex. I have recurring urinary tract infections which are now under control with medication, so I always assumed that the irritation was just the beginning of the infections. However, now that the UTIs are under control I have still been experiencing soreness, itchiness, and redness around the vaginal opening. Should I be using a different lubricant or am I allergic to latex? Are there good hypoallergenic lubes and condoms? Also, my boyfriend is on the larger side of the penis spectrum, so I don't know if the problem could be that we don't have an effective enough lube. Please, help!
Stephanie replies:

One of the first things you generally want to think about in terms of any problems during or after sex such as you’re having with irritation, is when was the last time you were in to see your gynecologist? I can see from your question that you’ve been to a doctor about the UTIs, and that’s good. But if you’re not up to date with your yearly screenings that’s a place to start. Sometimes there’s an underlying cause to pain and irritation, and they would be able to help you figure out if that’s the case.

The second question you’re going to want to consider is whether or not you’re up to date with your STI tests, since you are sexually active. Some STIs can also cause some of these same symptoms, and really once you become sexually active it’s something that’s important for you to keep up with anyway.

Once you get the basic healthcare needs and questions out of the way, then it’s a bit easier to begin narrowing down what else can be the cause of the irritation.

Here it’s a game of mixing and matching, changing little things to see what works for you. First, let’s take a look at what type of lubricant you are using, and whether or not the condoms you are using come with a spermicide/ spermicidal lubricant already on them. Irritation to spermicides is actually much more common than an allergy to latex is, so it’s usually the first to be ruled in or out with irritation.

Basically spermicides are dish soap, and when you consider how delicate genital tissue really is – it’s easy to understand why for a lot of people they just don’t feel very good. If you’re buying condoms that have a spermicide, or you’re using a spermicidal lubricant – let’s start with ditching that first and see if you’re still having that reaction. Know too that this doesn’t mean you’re any less protected – because the amount of spermicide on condoms is really so little that were a condom to fail it’s still more advisable to use EC to reduce the risk of pregnancy (And if the condom doesn’t fail, spermicides don’t get a chance to do their thing anyway.).

If you’re not using any products with a spermicide, then you look at the lubricant and the condoms. Actually, one of the best ways to test for a latex allergy/ sensitivity is just to be exposed to latex for a short period of time and check for a reaction. You can actually test this with your hand by wearing a latex glove for a short period of time (usually around 15-20 minutes) then removing it and checking for a reaction. You’ll notice some of the same things you described with the irritation in your question – a rash, itchiness, or other discomfort. It can also seem a bit sore if you react. If so, you’ll want to make sure your doctor knows (especially too since many doctor’s use latex gloves). You can also test this by changing to a non latex condom (polyurethane) to see if that makes a difference. You can usually find at least one brand of polyurethane condom at your local pharmacy.

As well, you might find that you’re allergic or sensitive to the type of lubricant that you are using, so trying a different brand of lubricant can be helpful in that. Check to be sure that it’s a water based lubricant as well, such as astroglide, liquid silk, or pink. As far as not using enough lubricant, how does sex feel for you while it’s happening? Do you usually feel like there’s not enough lubricant, or that you’re feeling a bit of irritation throughout? If so, using more lubricant may be beneficial. All together though, it’s really about mixing things up a bit until you find what works and feels best for you.

While you’re finding out what’s causing the irritation, here’re a few tips to help in dealing with that irritation: Wearing loose clothing and cotton underwear will help your skin "breathe." Make sure you’re using a mild/ gentle soap, because some soaps can cause more irritation to the area. Too, make sure you’re not having any type of genital sex until the irritation has passed, because irritating the skin more is going to be really uncomfortable for you and will not help you heal. Also, keep a watch on how long it takes for the irritation to go away, and if it lasts more than a few days make sure to get an appointment with your gynecologist.

Here are a few links with some additional information for you:

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