Go ahead, take a guess. What are we talking about? One out of six women suffer from this disorder?
It’s called Vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia is a chronic pain that affects the vulvar area (generally for three months or more) and causes either a burning or stinging feeling, a stabbing feeling, or rawness or irritation.
The cause is unknown.
Though an incredibly common disorder—depending on the research, somewhere between one out of six and one out of eight women—experience some degree of vulvodynia, it’s not something many people know about, much less talk about, explained Sex Therapist Dr. Carolin Klein, a registered psychologist and the owner of the West Coast Centre for Sex Therapy (https://westcoastsextherapy.com/) in Vancouver.
As the director of the multidisciplinary vulvodynia program at Vancouver General Hospital, she’s an expert on the topic. (According to the multidisciplinary vulvodynia program at VGH, 16 percent of women suffer from the disease at some point in their lives. Read more on their website here: (http://bcvulvarhealth.ca/multidisciplinary-vulvodynia-program/).
Klein said that vulvodynia is one of the two most common reasons her clients come to see her. The other is what she calls “desire discrepancies in couples.”
There are essentially two types of vulvodynia pain: “Provoked pain” via sex or even a tampon, and chronic pain, common to the burning feeling many women experience during menopause.
A psychologist can play a big role in the disorder because when it comes to experiencing pain, our brains play a huge part, Klein explained.
“Often times when your brain is predicting pain, then your brain emits even more pain signals,” Klein said. “So psychologists help people lower their anticipation of pain.”
And in the case of vulvodynia, often times it leads to emotional problems in a relationship. Sometimes it gets to the point where the woman just won’t have sex anymore, or doesn’t even want her partner to touch her, Klein explained.
“It can get to the point that she loses the ability to get aroused at all,” Klein said.
And when this happens in a heterosexual relationship, the woman’s partner often assumes she doesn’t want to have sex with him, assumes it’s all in her head.
“Male partners don’t get it and think it’s an excuse not to have sex,” added Klein, who works with many couples to educate both partners about vulvodynia.
Though Klein plays a big role in helping people overcome vulvodynia, she believes the best approach to the disorder is generally a multi-layered one, one that includes not only a psychologist, but also a gynecologist and often a pelvic-floor physical therapist—hence the multidisciplinary aspect of the treatment.
Bottom line, if you’re in the approximately 16 percent of women who experience this type of pain, if it’s affecting your relationship or leading to anxiety, get in touch with a health care provider. As Klein explained, the problem is solvable if you take some action.