Have you heard of Vulvodynia? Although it may be a condition that few are familiar with, let alone can pronounce, recent studies point to at least 16% of American women suffering from Vulvodynia at some point in their lives. For them, this condition that can make even the gentlest touch to their genital area result in intense, burning pain; the impact on their lives can be dramatic, especially in regards to sexual intimacy. Yet, with proper treatment and some lifestyle adjustments, it is possible for those suffering from Vulvodynia to have, and maintain, a heathy sex life!
Mystery still surrounds the true cause of Vulvodynia. The most prominent theory is that it stems from irritation, or hypersensitivity of the nerves that run through the skin of the vulva. For some, this pain is only a mild discomfort. For others, the sensation is excruciating.
“My symptoms began around the time I was a sophomore in college,” shares Laura, a 35-year-old lawyer and mother of two. “I distinctly remember trying to study one night and not being able to focus because I couldn’t find a comfortable sitting position,” she continues. “The burning sensation was so intense. I went to student health and the doctor told me it was probably just a yeast infection and advised me to pick up some OTC product. But, the symptoms wouldn’t go away!”
As in Laura’s case, many women suffer with Vulvodynia for years because it can be so difficult to diagnose. To make matters worse, there are other conditions that can be easy to confuse with Vulvodynia, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, yeast infections, and changes to the genital skin post menopause.
“The symptoms I was experiencing were making sex incredibly painful,” says Laura sadly. “My boyfriend ,at that time, eventually stopped initiating sex because he became so terrified of hurting me,” she continues. “So here I was, in my twenties, when you’re really supposed to be coming into your own sexually, absolutely terrified of sexual intimacy because it hurt! That was a really depressing time for me.”
It’s no surprise that those who suffer from Vulvodynia end up avoiding sex. When even the lightest touch to the genitals can result in sharp stabbing pains or burning, it can become increasingly difficult to ever feel “in the mood.” But, the exact act that can potentially cause pain, may be just what is needed to lessen the intensity of symptoms in the future.
“I discuss sex very openly with my patients who have been diagnosed with Vulvodynia,” states Dr. Lisa Erhard, a board-certified gynecologist of over 25 years. “I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or shamed by their pain—I want them to understand that they can still enjoy a healthy sexual life with a few minor adjustments” she continues.
What are some recommendations that gynecologists, such as Dr. Lisa, suggest to their patients with Vulvodynia who want to enjoy a healthy sex life?
- Communicate openly and honestly with your partner
- Broaden your definition of sex and transition the focus to intimate touching, kissing, caressing, massage
- Explore oral sex
- When attempting intercourse, partake in extended foreplay to ensure your body is ready and responding
- Use natural, fragrance free, lubricants during sexual intercourse
- In some cases, with your doctor’s approval, a numbing gel may be recommended to decrease sensation/pain, if this is the case, your partner will want to wear a condom to avoid decreased sensation
- Practice deep breathing techniques to relax your body during sex
- Explore difference sexual positions to find options that are more comfortable for you
- Ask your physician about practicing with a dilator to increase your comfort with sex, both physically and mentally
“I lived with my symptoms all the way through law school,” confesses Laura. “I actually scheduled an appointment with Dr. Lisa when I saw her on a local TV show talking really openly about painful sex,” she continues. “She was the first physician to really listen to me, make me feel comfortable, and properly diagnose my condition. My only regret is not scheduling with her sooner!”
Although some sufferer’s symptoms significantly lessen over time, or even disappear, many people live with the painful symptoms of Vulvodynia for the rest of their lives. Partnering with a physician you are comfortable with, and who can recommend treatment options and therapies that work for your lifestyle, is an imperative part of managing your symptoms. But, it is important to realize that those who suffer from Vulvodynia can still lead lives that are full of healthy, sexual intimacy and connection!
Have you been diagnosed with Vulvodynia? Are you concerned that you have been misdiagnosed with another condition? You are not alone! Call Wayzata Cosmetic Surgery & Spa to schedule a consultation with Dr. Lisa Erhard to discuss your concerns and solutions!