Vulvodynia is a descriptive term which refers to pain in the vulvar area, but may also include the clitoris, perineum (space between the vagina and the anus) & anus. When asked to describe their pain women described; burning, itching, dryness, rawness and a drawing sensation. The symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some women may have occasional discomfort, while others experience chronic pain. Vulvodynia may prohibit women from wearing jeans or tight clothing and often causes pain during intercourse. Vulvodynia is not a psychological problem but can result in psychological effects such as embarrassment, shame, sexual and relationship avoidance and lower quality of life.
Women with Vulvodynia often report other conditions such as skin allergy, bowel problems, urological conditions, chronic pelvic pain, muscle, bone and joint pain conditions.
A clinical study of 744 Australian women, diagnosed with vulvodynia, examined the age distribution of patients and studied the age of symptom onset (Jantos 2007). The study found that 75% of the vulvodynia patients were under the age of 34 years. Prevalence peaked at 24 years of age.
An unexpected finding in the Australian study was that a significant number of the women reported the onset of symptoms in their early childhood or shortly after puberty, with commencement of tampon use, first medical exam, or with first attempts at sexual activity. These findings, for the first time, highlight the very early onset of symptoms for at least half of the vulvodynia patient group. These findings were initially met with a degree of scepticism but a later retrospective study of vulvodynia in preadolescent girls confirmed the occurrence of vulvodynia in children between ages four to eleven, with duration of pain varying from several months to seven years (Reed & Cantor, 2008).
A range of causes of vulvodynia has been proposed, immunological (lichen Sclerosis), hormonal (menopause, cancer induced menopause, irregular periods), inflammatory (eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis), infections (BV, STIs) and neuropathic (pudendal neuralgia) (Haefner et al., 2005). It is unlikely that there is one single cause for vulvodynia.
Reference sites and support
Vulvodynia support group
What is normal down there
Women’s Experience of Lichen Sclerosus