Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome
Vulvar Vestibulitits Syndrome (VVS) is a medical condition that involves pain upon touch of the vaginal opening or penetration (Bergeron, Bouchard, Fortier, Binik, and Khalife, 1997). Some women also feel pain without any direct touch of the vaginal opening. In addition to pain, women also describe a burning sensation and itching at the vaginal opening. As a result, intercourse can be a painful experience or for some women with VVS even impossible. The cause of VVS is unknown (Kuile & Wiejenborg, 2006).
Having VVS creates psychological symptoms as well. Doctors do not always easily diagnose VVS and some women see several doctors before an actual diagnosis is made. Part of the reason, is that some doctors are unaware of the presentation of VVS and it can be complicated to diagnosis. Treatment of VVS is also complicated as there are different treatment methods and women often have to go through a trial and error approach to find a treatment that is helpful. All of these factors and the time involved can have an emotional impact on a woman’s life.
Women with VVS feel frustrated, irritable, anxious, and depressed. If you are a woman with VVS and you feel any of these, you are in the norm. The diagnosis and treatment process can be lengthy and unpredictable leading to a great deal of frustration. Women may also feel depressed. Some women have described feeling hopeful about a treatment or a new doctor’s visit only to have their hopes dashed when it is unsuccessful. It may be hard to keep your hopes up and not resort to negative thinking. Having regular bouts of negative thinking can lead to depression and feeling hopeless. Many women with VVS also report feeling anxious or stressed. Women reporting worrying about feeling pain during intercourse, how it will affect their relationships, finding a partner, finding an effective treatment, etc.
So what can you do to cope with these symptoms?
- Don’t give up hope - VVS is complex and can be chronic, but research about treatments continues to be conducted and many women have been treated effectively.
- Reduce all or nothing thinking – Try not to buy into thoughts that have the words never or always in them (e.g. I will never get better, treatment will never work, I will always feel extreme pain). Not only are these types of thoughts very negative and depressing, but you have no idea if they are true or will ever be true. Remember you can’t predict the future.
- Be kind to yourself – It is o.k. to have these feelings. Allow yourself to feel them, but don’t let them run your life.
- Sexual expression is not just intercourse – Yes, sexual intercourse may be an important part of sexual expression for many of us, but there is a variety of ways to express our sexuality and to feel sexual pleasure.
Consider talking to a sex therapist – If you are having a difficult time managing these feelings, it may be time to speak to a therapist. A sex therapist specifically, can help you cope with the emotions as well as the impact of VVS on your sexuality. Through therapy, you can learn how to understand how VVS specifically impacts your sexuality and how to view it as one part of your sexuality. Because dealing with VVS can be a long and complicated struggle, it can begin to define a woman's sex life and sexuality rather than being just one part of it. You can learn how to reclaim and reconnect with your sexuality and how to manage VVS and not let it take over. Remember, not all sex therapists are familiar with VVS, so make sure you do your research.
Trying these simple strategies are just the beginning. Coping with the psychological symptoms of VVS is not a simple process and these feelings have not developed overnight. Pursuing treatment for the physical symptoms of VVS is essential. Just remember to take care of your emotional health in the process.
Bergeron, S., Bouchard, C., Fortier, M., Binik, Y. M., & Khalife, S. (1997). The surgical treatment of vulvar vestibulitis syndrome: A follow-up study. Journal of Sex Therapy and Marital Therapy, 23, 317-25
Kuile, M. M., & Wiejenborg, P. M. (2006). A cognitive-behavioral group program for women with vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (VVS): Factors associated with treatment success. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 32, 199-213.