Why is it hard to get treatment for painful sex?

Painful sex isn’t normal

Millions of women experience pain during sex, and unfortunately society has a tendency to stigmatize it. Contrary to what some may have been told, it’s not in your head, and it has nothing to do with how much you care about your partner. Anybody can have a healthy, pain-free sex life, no matter your age.

In a February 2016 post on The Pelvic Rehab Report, pelvic rehab specialist Holly Tanner, DPT, PRPC observed the following:

“Unfortunately, one of the most common things we hear in pelvic rehab is ‘I hope you can help me, you’re my last hope’… How long did it take this patient to find her way to pelvic rehab? Research tells us that most women have been through multiple physicians, under- or misdiagnosed, and that many have failed attempts at intervention with medications or procedures.”

Dr. Tanner goes on to discuss how vulvar pain can affect a woman’s sex life. The condition of experiencing pain during intercourse is called dyspareunia, and those who suffer from it may have to face more than just the pain. A study by Nguyen et al., 2013 found that women who reported chronic pain were more likely to perceive being stereotyped by doctors and others. Interestingly, among the group of women who had chronic vulvar pain, the women who sought care for their condition reported feeling more stigmatized.

Consult a pelvic rehab professional

Estimates are that 8% of American women will suffer from dyspareunia by the age of 40, and at least half of those who seek treatment won’t be properly diagnosed. According to Dr. Tanner, factors that cause vulvar pain can be infectious, inflammatory, neoplastic, neurologic, trauma, iatrogenic, and hormonal deficiencies. Clearly it is essential to consult a medical practitioner who has an understanding of pelvic conditions like vulvodynia (vulvar pain lasting more than three months) and dyspareunia. If you need help, your first step is to look through our directory of pelvic rehabilitation practitioners.

References and further reading:
Arnold, L. D., Bachmann, G. A., Kelly, S., Rosen, R., & Rhoads, G. G. (2006). Vulvodynia: characteristics and associations with co-morbidities and quality of life. Obstetrics and gynecology, 107(3), 617.
Brotto, L. A., Yong, P., Smith, K. B., & Sadownik, L. A. (2015). Impact of a multidisciplinary vulvodynia program on sexual functioning and dyspareunia. The journal of sexual medicine, 12(1), 238-247.
Harlow, B. L., Kunitz, C. G., Nguyen, R. H., Rydell, S. A., Turner, R. M., & MacLehose, R. F. (2014). Prevalence of symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of vulvodynia: population-based estimates from 2 geographic regions. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 210(1), 40-e1.
Nguyen, R. H., Turner, R. M., Rydell, S. A., MacLehose, R. F., & Harlow, B. L. (2013). Perceived stereotyping and seeking care for chronic vulvar pain. Pain Medicine, 14(10), 1461-1467.