There’s enough taboo around women’s sexual health and sex education. When it comes to vaginal pain there’s barely any conversation surrounding it. This explains why you may have never heard of this condition. Vestibulodynia is a type of vulvodynia (unexplained pain in the vulvar area) which is characterized by pain and tenderness at the vaginal opening in response to a light touch. Due to ignorance, misinformation, and taboos around sexual health problems, many women suffer silently because they can’t find the appropriate treatment or never realize that it is a recognized, treatable physical condition.
- Women suffering from vestibulodynia experience pain, burning, and rawness at the entrance to the vaginal canal in response to any sort of light touch in that area.
- There are no physically apparent symptoms other than redness and tenderness in some cases.
- The pain can prevent women from several activities such as penetrative sex, using tampons, or even riding a bike.
- Some may experience pain from wearing tight clothing.
- Pain may also occur during urination, exercise or just from sitting for too long.
Diagnosis of this condition is a process of elimination. Doctors will normally do biopsies and tests to rule out other causes of pain such as infections or cancer. The condition is very often misdiagnosed as ‘thrush’ which is a kind of yeast infection that occurs in the vagina. Frequent anti-thrush treatments can worsen the pain so, always ask your doctor to confirm with the appropriate tests.
There is no known certain cause of vestibulodynia. Doctors hypothesize that it is a result of hypersensitive nerve endings in the sensitive skin at the vaginal opening. It may also be a result of hormonal factors, genetic factors as well as pelvic floor dysfunction.1
However, the following may cause it to become worse.2
- repeated yeast infections and treatment leading to soreness
- sexual abuse
- laser treatment or surgery
- skin irritants from douches, detergents or hygiene products
Once the diagnosis is made, there are a number of ways to treat the pain such as:3
- anesthetic, topical creams
- surgery to remove the affected tissue
Unfortunately, these medications may cause adverse side effects, and surgery is only a last resort option.4 5 Non-medical treatments that may help include:6 7
- psychosocial therapy to help deal with the often accompanying symptoms of depression or anxiety
- meditation and relaxation techniques
- acupuncture (only with a licensed practitioner who is experienced in dealing with vulvar pain)
- excluding oxalate-containing foods such as spinach, beets, peanuts, and chocolate from one’s diet
Another form of treatment is pelvic muscle strengthening exercises. Strengthening these muscles can help alleviate some of the pain associated with vestibulodynia but it’s important for all women to do. The kegel exercise keeps your pelvic muscles and tissue strong enough to hold your organs in place. When your pelvic muscles become weak, it can lead to reduced bladder control and many other complications.
How To Perform A Kegel Exercise
- Find the muscles around your urethra and anus that you use to hold back urine or stop urination mid-flow.
- These are the muscles you will have to learn to contract and release.
- Sit comfortably in a desk chair and exhale as your contract these pelvic muscles.
- Hold for 2–3 seconds and then release.
- With each repetition, try to lengthen the amount of time that you hold the contraction.
Once you have mastered this exercise, you can do it anywhere at anytime discreetly. You can even include it in some basic pelvic stretches or yoga poses.
This kind of pain can be very difficult and almost traumatic to deal with. Women who suffer from this condition can come to associate sex with fear and extreme pain. Ultimately this leads to frustration in sexual and romantic relationships. It’s important for women to be able to educate themselves about their bodies. Supportive and informed partners, family, and friends can also be of great help in dealing with this condition.
|↑1||Lev-Sagie, Ahinoam, and Steven S. Witkin. “Recent advances in understanding provoked vestibulodynia.” F1000Research 5 (2016).|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑6||Vulvodynia. MedlinePlus|
|↑4||Lidocaine Transdermal Patch. MedlinePlus|
|↑7||What are the treatments for vulvodynia? National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development.|