Skip to content

    Health & Sex

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Finding Relief From Vulva Pain

    At least 200,000 American women suffer from chronic vulva pain, a condition that perplexes doctors and can destroy a woman's sex life.
    By
    WebMD Feature

    Vulvas get little respect. They're the brunt of bad jokes, thanks to an ill-named Swedish car, and medically they're a forgotten part of a woman's anatomy. In the U.S. at least 200,000 women suffer from vulva pain. A condition once called "burning vulva syndrome" it can last for years, causing repeated episodes of severe pain and destroying sexual desire.

    Just where is the vulva? Many women refer to their entire genital region as the vagina, but the vagina is internal and ends at the shiny tissue that surrounds the vaginal opening, or the vestibule. The outside of the female genital area is called the vulva.

    Recommended Related to Sex & Relationships

    How To Save A Marriage

    By Amy Finley My husband was born and spent his childhood in France, and you could say that from the moment we met, living in Paris, and fell in love, he wooed me with words. He'd speak French — really, he could have been describing the laundry — and my knees would positively buckle. Amour...chérie...fromage... And then, as so often happens, life intervened. Back home in the States, the stresses just accumulated like cascading dominoes over five years of marriage: two small children + mounting...

    Read the How To Save A Marriage article > >

    For women with vulvodynia, symptoms could include persistent pain or burning and itching of the vulva. The symptoms can be so severe that it makes sexual intercourse agonizing. There's no apparent tissue damage, no discharge, no infection, no fungus -- in short, nothing is seen on exam except chronic inflammation, but no one knows exactly what the inflammation is from and doctors aren't sure what to treat. This can be frustrating to many women.

    For a couple of reasons, a woman might spend months or years seeking treatment without getting relief, says Elizabeth G. Stewart, MD, co-author of The V Book: A Doctor's Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health. "The first reason is all genital pain has been regarded as psycho-sexual for centuries. I've seen an awful lot of women who were told they were crazy and have undergone months or years or psychotherapy or sexual therapy. The second reason is physicians and nurses receive virtually no training regarding all the things that can go wrong with the vulva. We're taught about yeast infections, and that's about it."

    Hearing "it's all in your head" is probably the greatest injustice, says Howard Glazer, PhD. He's a neurophysiologic psychologist who specializes in pain management, sexual dysfunction, and electromyographic biofeedback, and is quick to point out that vulvodynia is not a psychological disorder. "It's a real, organic condition. A woman becomes emotional in response to pain that's interfering with an important part of her life. To physicians who don't understand psychological processes, they see flaky women who have nothing wrong with them having painful sex -- go have a drink and relax. That's inappropriate and insulting."

    1 | 2 | 3 | 4

    Today on WebMD

    couple not communicating
    How to tell when you're in one.
    couple face to face
    Get your love life back on track.
     
    couple having an argument
    Turn spats into solutions
    couple in argument
    When to call it quits.
     
    Life Cycle of a Penis
    Article
    HIV Myth Facts
    Slideshow
     
    How Healthy is Your Sex Life
    Quiz
    Couple in bed
    Video
     
    6 Tips For Teens
    Article
    Close-up of young man
    Article
     
    screening tests for men
    Slideshow
    HPV Vaccine Future
    Article