Health

Vulva and Vagina: What to Do If You Get Something Spicy Down There

So, you and your partner are cooking dinner. It’s taco night, no pun intended. While the onions, garlic, and jalapeños are sizzling in the skillet, you two start making out. Screw the vegetables—you need your partner now. They slip their hand down your pants, and everything is spine-tingly and great, except…they haven’t washed their hands since chopping those peppers. You’re on fire down below, and not in the way you and your partner intended.

If you’re lucky enough to never have experienced this, we’ll confirm it: Certain parts of your genitals can be really, really sensitive to spicy foods.

The fleshy skin on parts of your vulva like your mons pubis (that mound where hair grows) and your labia majora (the bigger set of lips around your vagina) are like the skin on most areas of your body. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, getting spicy foods on these areas might cause some burning. But as a whole, bits like your mons pubis can withstand irritants better than delicate areas like your labia minora (that inner pair of lips) and—eeeek—the inside of your vagina. (Let’s hope taco night action stopped before any penetration occurred.)

Your labia minora and vagina contain mucous membranes, so they’re essentially the same type of tissue as the kind inside your mouth, ob/gyn Leah Torres, M.D., tells SELF. This makes them more susceptible to burning sensations; just like your mouth might feel aflame when you douse it in buffalo sauce, so might your vagina. And as anyone who’s pooped after going all out on Thai takeout knows, the skin inside and around your anus can be really sensitive to spice, too.

So, yeah, it can burn like hell if you get something hot on your genitals. But what can you do to stop the pain?

Your job is to get rid of the spice without further irritating the area. First up: Apply something cool (and possibly wet).

To calm inflammation and turn down the heat, gently put something cool on your well-spiced genitals, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an ob/gyn, tells SELF. This could be an ice pack or pack of frozen peas (just make sure to put it in something like a paper towel so it’s not too intense) or a cool, wet washcloth. Wondering if you should just rinse off with water? It depends. Sticking your vagina under your bathtub faucet might not cause the flood of relief you’d expect.

Zesty items like hot peppers and red hot chili flakes get their heat from a group of molecules called capsaicinoids, specifically one known as capsaicin. When capsaicin binds to and activates a kind of pain receptor called transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1), the receptors communicate with your brain and cause a burning sensation. Turns out you’ve got these receptors on various parts of your body, including your genitals.

The problem is that water can actually spread those capsaicin molecules around rather than rinsing them away, according to the American Chemical Society. This is why it sometimes feels like you can breathe fire even if you’re alternating bites of vindaloo with sips of water.

So, don’t try to rinse the spicy stuff away and risk even more of you feeling the burn. Instead, you can pat the area with something cool and wet, like a washcloth, using a direct up-and-down motion that’s not rubbing the spice around.

To avoid further irritation, you might want to skip the soap.

If the spice is on your vulva, softly dabbing on a bit of mild soap may be OK if you’re used to it. Usually, all you need to wash your vulva is plain water, but it’s typically fine to use some gentle soap as long as you know it won’t cause any irritation. If you’ve never used soap on your vulva and it’s already irritated, sticking with some sort of cool material might be your best bet.

When it comes to your vagina, soap is persona non grata, Dr. Shepherd says. Using soap could upset your vagina’s ratio of good to bad bacteria, possibly resulting in infections such as bacterial vaginosis. It could also just further aggravate your poor vag, which is already ablaze with irritation. Same goes for the fragile skin in and around your anus—if it’s already inflamed, soap could just make things worse.

Finally, don’t frantically scrub yourself, either with your fingers or any harsh materials, Dr. Shepherd adds. “You really want to prevent [irritating] the area more,” she says. Translation: Put down the loofah.

If the heat continues to pick up, you can consider raiding your fridge for any kind of animal-based dairy. You can see where we’re going with this…

You may have heard that drinking milk can counteract the burn when you put way too much hot sauce on your breakfast burrito. It may actually be worth a shot on certain parts of your genitals, too, Dr. Torres says—but you have to be careful.

Dairy products from mammals contain a protein called casein that attracts those hot capsaicin molecules so that dairy molecules can dissolve them, according to the American Chemical Society. Take it from my friend Pat H. who found sweet relief when he dipped his balls in milk after adjusting them with hot sauce on his hands.

The catch is that it’s a lot easier and safer to chug a glass of milk after housing a spicy meal than to apply it to your vulva, vagina, or anus. If a part of your body like your mons pubis is burning, you can try spackling on a creamy form of dairy that won’t dribble into areas where it shouldn’t, like Greek yogurt. Just leave your vagina and anus out of it. Dairy products are not meant to go inside your vagina, where they could affect your bacterial balance, or near your anus, which is too close to your vagina to play around.

If the burning doesn’t subside or start to get better within a few hours—or it gets worse—it’s time for a trip to the doctor.

“Usually, the burning will go away on its own within an hour, or at least get better,” Dr. Shepherd says. If you’re in a ton of pain or dealing with symptoms like swelling, you need to see a medical professional. It could be that something like a jalapeño seed is inside of you, intent on causing trouble until you park your feet in some stirrups and allow your ob/gyn to remove it.

Once you’re back from that trip to the ob/gyn, the experience will probably be seared into your memory, serving as your inspiration to wash your hands after touching anything spicy. (And to insist that anyone you’re hooking up with does, too.) Maybe even thinking about the prospect is enough to make you do your due diligence. Either way, we’ll remind you here: It’s always smart to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching something spicy. Your eyes, vagina, and any other sensitive spots will be relieved you did.

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Self – Health

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