What is a Bartholin Cyst? + What to do About Them

We've had so many requests for a piece explaining Bartholin's Cysts, and we knew exactly who we wanted to share their first-person experience. Meet Molly-Margaret Johnson, creator of @whatswrongwithmyvagina

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Finding a lump. It’s always alarming. Finding a lump on your vulva? Alarming-er. It could be a Bartholin cyst. Lucky for us, they’re common and curable. Never heard of them? Get them constantly? Check this out. 

The Bartholin glands are two little glands on both sides of our vaginal opening– the most overlooked MVPs our vagina has. Their purpose? They make us wet! While mostly they’re open and making sure everything runs smoothly, there’s potential for those openings to get clogged or infected. And that is called a Bartholin cyst. Bartholin cysts are what happens when those glands get clogged up and those trapped fluids build up and create a marble-sized lump on the outside of our vagina (on either side of the opening). Most of us have had these; many of them come and go without much drama and sometimes even unnoticed– and sometimes not. These bad boys, when infected, raise hell.

A year ago I got my first Bartholin cyst, and not knowing what it was, I ignored it. The next day after a busy day of running around, the cyst was inflamed, the size of a golf ball, and mad as hell.  Freaked out of my mind and still not knowing what it was, I made my way to the ER (knowing any OB/GYN appointment was weeks away from available).

The ER doctor diagnosed it as a Bartholin abscess (an infected Bartholin cyst) and told me I had to have it cut open and drained. The excruciating pain and fear of the procedure were the perfect cocktail for the worst vaginal problem I’ve ever had. The doctor admitted the procedure and the aftermath were less than pleasant. After much-needed Vicodin, the quick and mildly painful procedure began. The doctor sliced the cyst open and drained it, and put a catheter in the opening to let the rest of the juices make their way out over the next few days. Hot.

Here’s the thing with these suckers– once you get one, you’re prone to them (so lucky, right?!). The good news is they rarely escalated to where my first one got. Unfortunately, there’s no precise cause or remedy to these mysterious lumps, but here’s what helped me home remedy mine away: Showering after sex, sitting on a hot water bottle, icing them if they feel inflamed, hot compresses and cotton rounds with witch hazel slipped into my undies. All of these helped, for sure, but this sucker was DETERMINED.

I had one for about three months this past summer, it was the size of a large cherry but completely unirritated. My gynecologist said, as long as there was no pain, you didn’t have to worry about them. I was able to walk, sleep and slut as usual with this lump hanging out with me. While it didn’t bother me physically or aesthetically, in the back of my mind I was always afraid it would get infected again- because there’s no way of telling if it will or won’t. As a preventive measure and a long term solution, I decided to get the marsupialization surgery. This surgery consists of opening up the gland and sewing it open, creating a larger gland opening. The larger the gland, the easier it is for fluids to come out, the less likely of it getting clogged and creating a cyst. The surgery was done under general anesthesia and took about two hours. Recovery was about 4-5 days in bed, all the Netflix and about five baths a day. Beyond that, it was refraining from penetrative sex for about two months. 

I’m about five months post-op and my vagina and I have never been happier. No cysts to speak of and I’m thrilled I made the choice to get the surgery. It made my sexual, physical and mental health significantly better.