Private parts. Cookie. Fanny. Growing up this is often how we referred to what is actually called our vulva. It’s the external part of our genitalia and includes our labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, and vaginal opening (also referred to as the ‘vestibule’). There’s a lot going on there, right?
This one area of our anatomy is responsible for a lot and is the source of much of our pleasure. This is why, for women suffering from vulvodynia (chronic vulva pain), it can be an unbearable experience.
So, what is chronic vulva pain?
‘Vulvodynia is a condition experienced by women who have the sensation of vulval burning and soreness in the absence of any obvious skin condition or infection,’ explains the Vulval Pain Society. The condition is often the result of irritation or hypersensitivity of the nerve fibres in the vulval skin.
The burning and soreness that sufferers of vulvodynia experience can be continuous and unprovoked, or can occur from contact. One woman may experience it all the time, for example, while another won’t be in pain until she attempts to insert a tampon or have sex.
What does chronic vulva pain feel like?
The symptoms of unprovoked vulvodynia include:
- The feeling of burning or aching
- In severe cases, sitting comfortably is difficult
- Sleep interference due to pain
- In some cases, pain is not limited to the vulva and can be felt on the inner thighs, upper legs, urethra and anus
- Pain during foreplay or penetration
The symptoms of provoked vulvodynia include:
- Pain resulting from light touch; be it inserting a tampon, or during foreplay or sex
- Experiencing generalised or local pain around the vulva during contact
Debunking vulvodynia myths
While it’s still not known what exactly causes vulvodynia, there are absolutes which its sufferers should know.
- Chronic vulva pain is not infectious and can’t be transmitted to a partner.
- It’s not related to cancer.
- While some women may experience pain in areas other than their vulva (as mentioned above), the pain doesn’t spread beyond this.
Treating chronic vulva pain
If any of the symptoms above are ringing a bell, get to your doctor or gynae ASAP. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all solution when it comes to this condition, and many women need to try a combination of things before they find relief. From tricyclic antidepressants and pelvic floor therapy to nerve blocks and over-the-counter meds, it’s often a case of finding the sweet spot that works for you when relieving pain.
Often many other conditions need to be ruled out before vulvodynia is diagnosed, which can make it a long and frustrating journey to relief. But don’t lose hope – talk to your doctor if you think you may be suffering from chronic vulva pain, and start finding the combination of treatments that work for you.
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