Vulvodynia: Your Pain Is Real
Jessica¹, a pregnant woman in her 30’s came to my clinic this summer. she had always suffered from pain during sexual intercourse, yet the first time she heard the word “Vulvodynia” was in her mid-pregnancy from her doula.
It was the first time after years of bad sexual experiences, unable to understand her girlfriend’s stories of pleasure, whose advice and attempts to help didn’t work for her pain.
During those years Jessica saw many gynecologists for routine examinations that were all extremely painful, but instead of checking why is it so painful her doctors used to tell her to just relax and that stress would not help. when she asked them about her pain during penetration they always told her that using lubricant gel would fix it, they should have known that this is useless advice for vulvodynia, and it only made her feel damaged.
Then, after all these years, Jessica suddenly hears that her pain is legit, it has a name! It certainly not in her head!
It keeps surprising me that so many doctors and gynecologists still don’t know how to diagnose vulvodynia or are not aware it even exists. many of them patronize these women telling them to just relax and drink a glass of wine before having sex, well of course, if the doctor doesn’t know how to diagnose then the problem has to be the woman, not them.
A study² in the US showed that women experiencing chronic vulvar pain would see 3 or more gynecologists before being correctly diagnosed and only 60% of them will be correctly diagnosed, even though approximately 1 in 7 women²⁻³ and adolescents suffer from vulvodynia which is A LOT, enough for everyone to know.
If you are not one of these women then you have at least 1 friend who is, she may have not told you about it as many women are too embarrassed to talk about their vulvar and vaginal pain. But the more we will talk about it the faster it will be normalized and will be easy to talk about it as we do with headache or backache.
No one should suffer quietly, that increases mental stress which often increases the pain.
After reading the word vulvodynia 6 times, I hope you won't forget it, but before explaining what is it, how does it feel and how can it be treated let’s go back to Jessica: her journey lasted for 18 weeks. she came almost every week for acupuncture treatment, changed her diet, the way she treated her vulva and the way she was thinking, added yoga exercises to her daily routine, took a private hypnobirthing course with Ayelet Havusha Klein, got full support from her doula Oda Meiberg, and almost at last minute she changed her midwife to Daphne van der Putten who was already experienced with vulvodynia.
10 hours after her first contraction Jessica delivered her first newborn in a natural home birth by herself.
From the first contraction until holding her baby Jessica was the only one to touch her vagina, she described to her midwife what she felt, and thanks to their excellent communication Daphne guided her on how to deliver herself.
With determination and accurate support the sky is the limit!
Vulvodynia is chronic pain in a woman's external genitals without an identified cause.
In most cases, the pain felt only in the vaginal opening (vestibule) but can appear in the entire vulva: from the area where the pubic hair grows to the large and small labia, clitoris, perineum, and sometimes the pain can spread to the anus, groin, and thighs.
The pain can occur only with contact such as inserting a tampon, sexual intercourse, wearing tight pants, cycling, prolonged sitting, or it can occur spontaneously without any direct contact.
The most common description of the pain is a burning sensation, but stinging, itching, numbness, tingling, or "just" discomfort can characterize vulvodynia as well.
Vulvodynia disrupts the life of the woman suffering from it on every level: physical, mental, and personal, lack of awareness has a major part in it⁴.
Vulvodynia is hardly researched⁵ which is why conventional treatment options are limited, but the most prominent are sexual therapy, pelvic floor physiotherapy, vaginal dilators, anesthetic ointments, and in some cases low-dose psychiatric medications.
Acupuncture has entered the official medical protocol as a promising treatment option⁵ after 4 successful research pilots, the last one was promising enough to receive a $2 million grant⁶ and today large-scale research is conducted at Chicago university.
I have been investigating and treating vulvodynia with Chinese medicine since 2007; Based on my clinical experience in most cases the pain significantly decrease or stop within a few weeks to a few months. since Chinese medicine treats the whole body as a system and not an organ or a disease, it can be expected that other complaints such as menstrual and digestive problems will be treated as well.
As seen in Jessica’s story, almost always the Chinese treatment will become a private journey requiring the woman’s participation, dedication and most probably the addition of other methods depending on the woman’s individual diagnosis.
¹ Jessica (alias name) would be happy to talk in person with any woman seeking help in dealing with her pain, please contact me and I will connect the two of you.