Vaginal Problems That Affect Your Sex Life
Vaginal disorders ranging from chronic infections to vaginitis, fibroids, and stress incontinence can damage your sexual health and general well-being.
Imagine vaginal burning and pain so severe you can’t sit comfortably, wear
fitted clothing, or have intercourse. That’s the reality women with vulvodynia
face -- and there’s no quick fix. Some suffer for years before finding the
right treatment (or even any relief).
That’s why Phyllis Mate, executive director of the National Vulvodynia
Association, was incensed by a recent episode of ABC’s Private Practice, in
which Dr. Addison Montgomery (played by Kate Walsh) diagnosed and cured a
patient’s vulvodynia in a single episode. “While the producers deserve credit
for trying to depict the symptoms of vulvodynia, 13 million women in the real
world would painfully disagree with the show’s fairy-tale ending,” Mate
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes vulvodynia, but possible contributors
include injury to nerves in the vulva, hypersensitivity to Candida, and pelvic
floor muscle spasms. The most common form of vulvodynia is vulvar vestibulitis
syndrome (VVS), which affects the tiny glands that lie at the top and bottom of
the vaginal opening.
For years, patients have been treated with tricyclic antidepressants (to
block pain receptors in the vulva), topical estrogen creams and anesthetics
(such as lidocaine), anticonvulsants, and surgery. But newer, less invasive
treatments are working wonders. To curb pain and restore sexual function,
Kellogg treats some patients with Capsaicin cream, a specially compounded
ointment that contains the active ingredient in chili peppers. It might cause
discomfort on contact but can dramatically reduce symptoms.
If a woman’s condition is flared by a Candida hypersensitivity -- to which
even a slight imbalance can cause itching and burning -- weekly doses of an
oral antifungal medication over several weeks or months can help alleviate
For patients who have a secondary condition called lichen dermatoses -- a
group of skin conditions in the vulva that can cause severe itching and/or scar
tissue -- a mix of topical steroids with a tiny dab of estrogen cream can help
heal the damage to the vulvar tissue and decrease symptoms.
Physical therapy (with a highly trained specialist) is another valuable form
of treatment for some patients. By correcting misalignments, strengthening
pelvic floor muscles (the layers of muscles stretching between your legs and
supporting your organs, bladder, uterus, and ovaries), and working to loosen
muscles that have become painfully tight, these therapists can help
dramatically reduce pain.