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A vaginal tear is a tear in the skin and/or muscles surrounding the vagina. Penetration can cause vaginal tearing, especially if lubrication is lacking. Another common cause of tearing is childbirth.
Superficial vaginal tearing caused by penetration is usually not severe and heals in a few days if no further irritation occurs. Encouraging lubrication through foreplay or using a lubricant can protect the vagina and prevent tears. This is especially important during menopause, when vaginal lubrication may decrease and the tissues of the vagina may become more delicate and susceptible to tearing during sex.
The "perineal tearing" that can happen at childbirth ranges from superficial skin tears to the vagina and the fourchette (the area where the labia minora meet) to deep tearing in the muscles and skin all the way between the vagina and the anus. This kind of tearing is usually repaired with stitches.