Is Vaginal Numbness Normal? Plus What to Do About It

Vaginal numbness is common from time to time. Numbness may feel like the tingly pins-and-needles feeling you might get when your leg “falls asleep,” an inability to climax during sex, or a complete lack of feeling, depending on the cause. Most of the time, the cause of vaginal numbness is a nerve issue, or blocked blood flow to the vaginal area. 

It is not uncommon to experience temporary numbness after activities like riding a bike, using a vibrator at high speed, or overstimulation during sexual activity. But contrary to popular belief, these activities won’t leave permanent effects that you need to be worried about. This kind of numbness will subside once you take a break. 

Prolonged numbness, on the other hand, can indicate an underlying health problem such as infections, hormonal changes, stress, and injuries.

Side view of legs in bed

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Stress and Hormonal Changes

During menopause, there is a significant drop in estrogen levels. When there is less estrogen, the vaginal walls can become thin, dry, and less elastic, which is known as vaginal atrophy. For many people, vaginal atrophy can make intercourse painful, and lead to decreased sensation in the area.

Persistent stress can also make it difficult for you to experience arousal. One 2014 study showed women with high levels of chronic stress experienced lower levels of genital sexual arousal. 

The mechanism behind this needs more research to be fully understood, but the study found that this may be due to cortisol (the stress hormone) interfering with the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is a network of nerves that helps your body activate its “fight-or-flight” response. Under stress, the SNS can slow down and suppress blood flow to areas of the body, like the genitals, which interferes with arousal and sensation. 

Vaginal Birth

Giving birth naturally can stretch or even injure the nerves in your pelvis. During complicated vaginal deliveries, the pelvic floor muscles are strained, which can result in reduced blood flow, vaginal atrophy, and loss of sensation. This is especially true if you deliver a large baby. 

Babies that weigh more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces (4,000 grams), are considered large for gestational age (LGA).

The good news is that a stretched vagina due to vaginal birth usually resolves with time, as the nerves regenerate and blood flow improves.

Trauma

If you’ve experienced sexual assault or other trauma, it could cause numbness during sexual activity. This could be due to a physical injury, or a psychological reaction that causes you to be stressed or fearful of having sex again. 

The stress hormone cortisol is elevated following exposure to trauma, which can cause your body to inhibit blood flow to your vaginal area and result in numbness during sex.

Inflammatory Diseases (MS and Lupus)

Inflammatory diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis can damage nerves in the body by causing inflammation of the nerves or the tissue around the nerves. This may result in vaginal numbness.

For example, people with lupus can suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which areas of the body — such as fingers and toes — feel numb and cool in response to triggers like cold and stress. It happens when the arteries that supply blood to the skin constrict excessively and limit blood flow to the area.

Lower Back Injuries or Spine Disorders

Lower back injuries such as a herniated disc can lead to nerves that are compressed at the lower end of the spinal cord. In some severe cases, a large disc herniation can result in cauda equina syndrome, which is when the bundle of nerves at the end of the spinal cord is compressed and damaged, cutting off sensation and movement in that area. 

Back pain is a common symptom of cauda equina syndrome, but it can also cause sudden numbness in the genital area, difficulty urinating, and weakness in the legs.

Cycling

If your vulva has ever felt numb or tingly after a bike ride or cycling class, you can blame your bike seat. “Saddle numbness” comes from sitting on a bicycle seat too long applying pressure on the perineum, compressing nerves and arteries in the labia area.

Nerves in your pelvic area are controlled by the pudendal nerve. It provides sensation to the vulva,  the perineum, and the clitoris. If there’s prolonged pressure applied to the area, it can impact the nerve. This will pass once you take a break. 

How to Treat Vaginal Numbness

If you’ve experienced vaginal numbness, these tips can help you regain sensation:

  • Skip riding your bike: If you experience vaginal numbness while riding your bike, try a different type of bike seat, change your form, or shorten your rides. If that doesn’t work, take a short break from rides.
  • Get some rest: Overstimulation from vibrators is one of the most common causes of vaginal numbness. For those who prefer a "stronger" or "higher" vibration mode, taking a break is particularly important. When your vagina has a moment to relax, the sensation will return.
  • Go to therapy: If you think the numbness in your vagina may be the result of trauma, seek mental health counseling. Therapeutic practices may help you explore possible triggers.
  • Try an internal vaginal massage: Internal massage can help you regain sensation. Massaging the vaginal walls can release tension and increase blood flow, resulting in greater sensation. 
  • Do pelvic floor exercises: Pelvic floor exercises can improve vaginal numbness if the numbness is happening as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction. You can do pelvic floor exercises at home. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Breathe in. Lift or squeeze the muscles around the vagina as you exhale gently. Hold for two seconds and repeat.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Visit your healthcare provider if your vaginal area is feeling numb for a prolonged period of time. Due to the close proximity of the nerve roots to the spinal cord, prolonged genital numbness can be an indication of a more serious condition or even a medical emergency.

A Quick Review

Despite the fact that countless people experience vaginal numbness during sex, persistent vaginal numbness is not normal. The cause of your vaginal numbness might be due to hormonal changes, stress, trauma to the area, or an underlying medical condition. Contrary to popular belief, using sex toys does not cause permanent vaginal numbness. 

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Sources
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