Vulvodynia refers to vulvar discomfort or pain of at least 3 months’ duration, without a clear identifiable cause for the pain. Approximately 16% of individuals experience this type of vulvar discomfort and or vulvar pain at some time in their life. Vulvodynia may be either generalized to the entire vulva (termed generalized vulvodynia) or localized to specific areas of the vulva (e.g., the clitoris – termed clitorodynia; the vulvar vestibule – termed vestibulodynia). Further, the pain or discomfort may be either provoked (i.e., occurring only when the area is touched such as during sexual activities or gynaecological examinations) or unprovoked.
Individuals experience uncomfortable sensations such as burning, stinging, irritation, stabbing, or rawness. The discomfort may be mild or severe. Some people find the symptoms very distracting and report that the symptoms interfere with daily living activities (wearing clothes, sitting, or walking) and/or sexual activities.
The diagnosis of vulvodynia is based primarily upon a thorough history and a thorough clinical exam of the vulva and vagina. No special investigations and or tests are usually needed.
There are many different therapies and treatments available for people suffering from vulvodynia including medical, behavioral, and surgical treatments. Individuals will often need to try several different treatments before experiencing significant pain relief. The longer a person has been experiencing pain, the more likely that she will benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to treating her pain.
The National Vulvodynia Association has a Self Help Guide which you can access here.
Watch our online Education Forum for an overview of the treatment approaches introduced in the Vulvar Pain Assessment Clinic.
Read Dr. Natalie Rosen’s research summary about how a partner’s responses to painful sex can impact vulvar pain here.