Vulvar vestibulitis is a type of vulvodynia, or pain around the vulva – the sex organs outside a woman’s body. The pain is in your vestibule, the part of your vulva around the opening of your vagina. It can cause redness and irritation of the skin and pain in the glands inside the skin. This condition is also called “vestibulodynia” or “localized provoked vulvodynia.”
What Are the Symptoms?
They can be different for every woman. They may be mild and annoying, or severe enough to interfere with your life. Symptoms can be constant, or they can come and go. They include:
- Pain from pressure (sitting, biking, working out, tight clothes, touch)
- Pain from sex or using a tampon
- Burning or stinging
- Feeling raw
- Peeing a lot, or suddenly feeling like you have to pee
Usually, itching isn’t a symptom.
Vulvar vestibulitis can take a toll on your sex life and relationships. When you try to have sex, the muscles in your pelvis can tense up so it hurts even more. The pain may make you not want to have sex at all.
What Causes It?
Doctors don’t know, but some studies show it may be linked to the following:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Yeast infections
- Bacterial infections
- Changes in the acidity of the vagina
- Detergents and soaps
- Spermicides and lubricants
Any woman can get vulvar vestibulitis. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex or not or how old you are. Your risk may be higher if you have interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome), endometriosis, or problems with the muscles that support their bladder, uterus, vagina, or rectum. Doctors aren’t sure which comes first -- those conditions or vulvar vestibulitius.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your doctor will look for redness around your vulva. She’ll use a cotton swab to touch different parts of your vulva to see where it hurts. She might also ask questions about your family medical history and run tests to make sure you don’t have an infection.
What’s the Treatment?
Once your doctor gives you a diagnosis, there’s a lot you can do to manage your symptoms. For example:
- Try different detergents
- Use a mild soap
- Avoid using pads, tampons, or other scented sanitary products
- Avoid tight clothes. Wear clothes that breathe, such as cotton. Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners
- Try witch hazel pads
- Pour lukewarm water over your vulva after you pee
- Soak in a lukewarm bath with 4 or 5 tablespoons of baking soda for 10 to 15 minutes, and do it up to three times a day.
- Use petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening (Crisco) on your skin to keep it moist
Your doctor can offer you treatments, like medications and creams. She might suggest injections that will help your body fight infection. She may recommend physical therapy with a specialist who can teach you how to strengthen as well as relax your muscles. If these treatments don’t work, your doctor might explore surgery or laser treatment to remove skin that’s involved. Counseling for you and your sex partner may help ease your fears about pain during sex.
You may have to try a few different treatments until you find one that helps most. You might also have to use more than one treatment at a time.