A new study suggests that accepting the pain of provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) could help couples both sexually and psychologically.
The research, published online in April in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, focused on both physical and social aspects of pain for women and their partners.
Provoked vestibulodynia is the most common type of vulvodynia – chronic pain in a woman’s vulvar region. With PVD, pain is localized to the vestibule, located around the entrance to the vagina. Women with this condition usually have pain when the area is touched. This can occur during sexual activity, during a gynecological exam, or while inserting a tampon.
PVD can affect both partners. While the anticipation of pain can make a woman anxious and tense, her male partner may worry about being the cause of that pain.
Couples coping with PVD may start to avoid sexual activity, even if they consider it a valued part of their relationship.
Chronic pain research has found that, in some cases, continuing with an activity in spite of pain may alleviate it to a degree. However, this line of thinking had not been applied to PVD.
For this study, a pair of Canadian researchers worked with 61 couples in which the woman had PVD. Both partners completed various questionnaires to assess pain, anxiety, depression, sexual function, and sexual satisfaction. The women’s mean age was 28 years; the male partners’ average age was 30.
The researchers found that when women were more accepting of their pain, they felt less pain, less anxiety, and less depression. Their sexual function and sexual satisfaction was higher. The male partners had similar results.
It’s possible that once the women accepted the pain, they could focus on the aspects of sex that brought them pleasure. In addition, accepting the pain may have helped them concentrate more on their intimate relationship, which was important to them. Doing so could decrease levels of anxiety and depression for both partners.
Clinicians who treat women with PVD and their partners might consider pain acceptance as part of their treatment plan, the authors suggested.
“Psychological treatments could incorporate increasing acceptance-oriented cognitions of pain, identifying personal values (e.g., investing in their sexual relationship with their partner), and encouraging continued engagement in valued life activities (e.g., nonpainful sexual activities,)” they wrote.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Boerner, Katelynn E., BSc (Hons) and Natalie O. Rosen PhD
“Acceptance of Vulvovaginal Pain in Women with Provoked Vestibulodynia and Their Partners: Associations with Pain, Psychological, and Sexual Adjustment”
(Full-text. First published online: April 13, 2015)