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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.

Stress Incontinence continued...

“To me, leaking during intercourse is equally as problematic and bothersome to women as leaking when you’re jogging, or playing tennis, or swinging a golf club,” says Jennifer Berman, MD, a urological surgeon and director of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The most widely recognized cause of stress incontinence is pregnancy (especially if you have a prolonged or traumatic vaginal delivery), but chronic straining from constipation, obesity, and previous pelvic surgeries are factors as well.

While Berman says that, in her opinion, “Kegel exercises [which build up pelvic floor muscles by repeatedly contracting and relaxing them] generally aren’t enough to strengthen weakened muscles from childbirth,” a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor dysfunction can help correct structural abnormalities and weakened muscles that are causing the leakage.

Berman says some women can manage this problem with “simple conservative methods such as emptying their bladder just before sex.” Other women find success by inserting a small, custom-designed silicone plug into their urethras just before intercourse.

Fibroids

“About 77% of women are estimated to have fibroids, but most don’t realize they have them,” says Cynthia Morton, PhD, research director of the Center for Uterine Fibroids at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “In many cases there are no symptoms.” The growth and development of these uterine tumors, which are cancerous only 0.1% of the time, according to Morton, is fueled by the surge of hormones women have during their childbearing years.

Fibroids may regress naturally after menopause. But if you develop cramping, excessive bleeding during menstruation, and painful intercourse, treatment is in order -- and a hysterectomy isn’t your only option. If a surgeon can’t remove a fibroid (and leave the uterus intact), he or she may recommend a procedure called uterine artery embolization, which cuts off the blood supply and forces the fibroid to shrink.

Even less invasive is a newer nonsurgical ultrasound treatment, which dissolves the fibroid with heat. “From my perspective it’s one of the most promising treatments,” says Morton. “Women are generally able to return to work the next day and report minimal or no side effects.”

For me, 11 years have passed since my diagnosis, and my journey with vulvar vestibulitis hasn’t been easy. But thanks to a dedicated group of health care providers, my symptoms are manageable today. If you can relate to my experience -- or if you’re suffering from another condition mentioned here -- take hope that you can find relief. It will make all that I’ve been through worth it.

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Reviewed on March 31, 2008

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