7 Painful Realities You Face Every Day When You Have Vulvodynia, Or Chronic Vulvar Pain

If you have a vagina, you've probably experienced, at one point or another, an unusual amount of pain, itching, rawness, or sensitivity down there, and asked yourself — likely with a little worry in tow — why does my vagina hurt? Is this normal? Do I need to be concerned?

First off, just to clarify, if you're experiencing pain on the exterior of your lady organs, it's actually not vaginal pain; it's your vulva that hurts. The vagina is the "tube" that connects the vulva to the uterus. The vulva includes all the exterior parts, like the pubis, the labia lips, the clitoris, and your urethra.

But make no mistake, vulvar pain is very real, and it's also much more common than you might think, considering how little it's spoken about. While the reason behind the pain can sometimes be as simple as sitting too long or being irritated by the fabric of your underwear, it can also be symptomatic of a variety of conditions, not the least of which is vulvodynia.

Vulvodynia refers to constant, chronic pain in the vulva or vaginal exterior. The cause of vulvodynia isn't really known, and it's often misdiagnosed. It's believed somewhere between three and 15 percent of women experience chronic vulva pain at some point in their lives.

Elite Daily spoke with Dr. Maria Sophocles, an OB-GYN at Princeton University, who sheds some light on the condition and explains some of the realities of living day-to-day with vulvodynia.

The Pain Can Make It Nearly Impossible To Have Sex
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This is one of the major struggles of living with vulvodynia. The pain makes it incredibly difficult to have comfortable, let alone pleasurable genital stimulation. As a result, obviously, it can put a major strain on, and add challenges to, your partnerships and sexual activities.

Dr. Sophocles tells Elite Daily,

Sex involves everything from light touching of the vulva to stretching of the tissues, and any and all aspects of sex can trigger the pain from vulvodynia.

She adds,

The fear of vulvodynia pain leads to vaginismus, which is involuntary pelvic floor muscle contraction, which limits the ability to have penetrative sex.
Vaginismus is the brain telling the pelvic floor muscles to contract whenever there is a possibility of an uncomfortable object entering the vagina — the pelvic floor muscles are pretty smart!

Pelvic floor physical therapy is a possibility for treatment, which works to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, including muscles around the opening of the urethra, vagina, and rectum.

Something As Simple As Sitting Can Be Unbearable

Because the pain can be so intense, any kind of long-term sitting can be a real struggle for those suffering from vulvodynia.

Think about it: sitting at work, going to the movies, or even trying to relax at home — all of these typically mundane parts of our days can be blindingly painful for someone with vulvodynia.

Dr. Sophocles shares with Elite Daily that if the skin is feeling irritated and dry, there's a great over-the-counter product called Replens Moisture Restore External Comfort Gel. It soothes and relieves discomfort to make normal daily activities like sex, walking, prolonged sitting, and exercising comfortable again.

Mental Health Can Take A Toll on Twitter

Because the area is so sensitive, and the causes and treatments of vulvodynia are so trial-and-error in their nature, the realities of having chronic pain end up really affecting the individual's emotions and mental well-being.

Dr. Sophocles tells Elite Daily,

The constant unremitting pressure and pain in such a private area can lead to profound psychosocial issues such as anxiety, depression, and can negatively affect interpersonal relationships.

Interestingly, Dr. Sophocles adds that oral medications commonly used to treat vulvodynia include antidepressants and anticonvulsants, as they work to down-regulate the pain receptors. Sometimes anesthetics are injected, as well.

Certain Sports Can Be Too Painful To Participate In

While it's not impossible to exercise, it does mean that certain physical activities are going to be limited.

Anything that requires your vulva to be in direct contact with an object (like bike riding, horseback riding, or a cycling class) can, unfortunately, be completely out of the question for someone suffering from vulvodynia.

Your Period Becomes More Complicated
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Depending on the level of pain, inserting a tampon or menstrual cup can be incredibly painful, and may not be an option at all for someone with vulvodynia.

Dr. Sophocles recommends avoiding daily panty liners during that time of the month, as they can irritate delicate tissue. Instead, she says, opt for unscented and dye-free cotton menstrual pads when you have your period.

You Have To Consider The Clothes You Wear In A Whole New Way

Finding clothes that fit comfortably presents another daily challenge for someone suffering from chronic vulvar pain, because the tightness and types of fabric can act as major, painful, and distracting irritants.

Dr. Sophocles tells Elite Daily,

Some strategies to minimize irritation of the vulva include wearing cotton underwear, using mild soaps for bathing, and [remembering not to] apply soap directly to the vulva.
Vulvodynia Can Affect Your Ability To Work, Too

It can be particularly challenging to be honest about the condition, which means it can be difficult to explain what's going on when it begins to affect your performance at work or school.

Dr. Sophocles shares a particularly harrowing example with Elite Daily:

I had one patient whose vulvodynia caused such severe itching and burning of the vulva that she had to constantly leave her work cubicle to go to the ladies room to scratch herself.
She was fired and was too embarrassed to tell her male boss why she was constantly away from her desk.

Remember, if you are experiencing these symptoms, there is absolutely no shame in opening up about your struggles, and there are resources to help you establish a better quality of life. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you're experiencing any of these symptoms yourself.