It's Not Just Childbirth That Can Give You a Vaginal Tear

Vanessa Raymond Fact Checked
© Sergey Filimonov / Stocksy United

Women’s vaginal tissues sometimes tear.

There, we said it. Even though no one really wants to talk about it, we’re going to because you might want to know what to do if it happens. And how to lessen the odds that it will.

You might tear giving birth and at other times, too

Tears are common in women having their first vaginal birth. These obstetric tears are almost always tears of the perineum (the area between the vagina and rectum) that occur when pushing a baby out.

Besides obstetric tears, other vaginal or labial tears are uncommon (phew). When they do occur, they can result from friction against a saddle or a hard landing on your bicycle frame (or anything narrow and unforgiving).

You may also experience vaginal irritation and microscopic tears from soap that doesn’t get rinsed off, a too-big tampon whose dry end rubs against you, a razor that overshoots the landing strip, or a waxing nightmare (please no).

Even your favorite pair of skinny jeans could be the culprit if worn commando.

But the most common cause of non-obstetrical vaginal tearing is sex, says Anna Shope, M.D., an obstetrician gynecologist who sees patients at the UW Neighborhood Shoreline Clinic and UW Medical Center-Roosevelt.

Why sex can cause vaginal tears

There is a series of small marvels your body performs to prepare for an intimate visitor—the warm-up known as arousal. Your vaginal tissues engorge, swelling your labia and clitoris, and producing that hostess with the moistness—vaginal lube. 

This vaginal fluid protects your delicate skin down under by reducing friction and irritation.

“It’s like preheating the oven. You don’t just stick the casserole in,” says Shope. 

But there are many variables that can affect just how much lube your body produces. And without enough lube, you’re more likely to tear. 

Estrogen is a hormone important to the lube-making process. Its levels vary according to where you are in your menstrual cycle, peaking around ovulation and dropping low just before your period. 

If you are breastfeeding or menopausal, your estrogen levels are likely to be lower, too. A curveball like emotional stress can also reduce lube production. So can alcohol, cigarettes, antihistamines, cold medicine and prescription medications, including birth control pills and antidepressants.

“Even young women who are perfectly healthy often need more lubrication than what they produce themselves,” says Shope. “Vaginal penetration without enough lubrication is not only less comfortable and less pleasurable, but it increases the chance of tearing.”

How to prevent a tear down there during penetration

Here are five strategies that help lessen the likelihood of a tear during sexual penetration.

Be in the mood. Arousal creates the engorgement and lubrication you need to make penetration both more pleasurable and more comfortable, says Shope. So be sure you’re turned on before sexual penetration.

Engage in plenty of foreplay. Women should not be shy about needing a lot of foreplay. Give your body time to prepare by letting anticipation build.

Use lots of lube. Start using lube during foreplay, and be liberal about it. It’s always better to err on the side of too much lube, says Shope. And if you need to reapply lube while having sex it doesn’t mean you’re queen of the desert. It’s perfectly normal.

Go slow and keep it wet. If you go slowly and use plenty of lube, your tunnel of pleasure should be perfectly passable, even with a toy or partner on the larger side.

Control the degree and pace. When you’re ready for penetration, start with positions where you can control the degree and pacing. Use the same game plan when playing with sex toys.

“Remember that sex should never hurt,” says Shope.

If you do get a tear down there

When accompanied by pain and bleeding, a tear merits a visit to your OB-GYN or primary care doctor, or the emergency room if it’s severe. 

Sometimes you may not recognize a tear until you feel a burning or stinging sensation when you pee. If you’re unsure of the cause of a vaginal tear or irritation, you should get it checked out by your doctor just in case it’s a sexually transmitted infection, or something else.

But if you know the cause of the tear, and believe it to be superficial, then a trip to your doctor is not necessary unless the wound begins to show signs of infection.

Care for it as you would any other owie  but with a little extra tenderness. 

“The good news is that there is so much blood flow through the vagina and vulva that all parts of that area heal really well,” says Shope. For tears that don’t require a visit to the doctor, once you no longer have discomfort, you should be good to go.