If you have a vagina – then you need to know about these conditions that may affect you during your lifetime to save you from feeling confused, alone and embarrassed. Self-awareness is key to sexual wellness. They don’t teach you about these vulvar-related conditions in sex education or biology and we don’t get an A to Z of Sexual Words & Terms for Straight-Forward Conversations manual at any point in our lives. It’s our job as healthy strong sexual women to be informed and be our own self-advocates when it comes to femme sex education and sexual awarness.
In this vaginismus series blog we are exploring conditions and sexual disorders that are related to and affect the vulvar region and not just your sex and intimate life but also your ability to use tampons, get pregnant and even attend appointments like important smear tests and IUI coil insertions. It is also deeper than that, sexual conditions do have various psychological and psychosexual consequences so it is beneficial to get help and treatment early on to prevent further anxiety and distress.
Like many women who received minimal formal sexology education about our incredible and complicated bodies, you don’t know what you don’t know. You might like to read… [Straight-talking Sex Talk: Decoding the Sexual Metaphors, Analogies and Humour in the Irish Therapy Room]
How well do you know the conditions that could affect the female reproductive system and vulva region? Curiously, not many women are familiar with or even aware that there is quite a range of sexual conditions and disorders which affect the vulva, vagina, female sexual orgasms and pelvic region. It is worth getting your head around some of these similar-sounding but very different types of conditions. If you think you may be experiencing any of these take a read of the treatment option suggestions below for further peace of mind. Here goes…
8 Vulvar and vulva related conditions all women need to know
Vaginismus is the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration. It is a tighteness of the vaginal wall muscles which causes discomfort, burning, pain and penetration problems, or a complete inability to allow penetration and insertion into the vagina. Women may experience primary vaginismus meaning they have never been able to experience or tolerate penetration or insertion in their lifetime. Secondary vaginismus means they have in the past been able to tolerate penetration or insertion but for a variety of reasons are unable to in the present. Global vaginismus is when the symptoms present in response to any and all types of penetration. Situational vaginismus occurs when a woman is able to tolerate certain types of penetration but not others and it may change also depending on the environment and surroundings.
Vulvodynia also known as vulval pain is a type of long-term pain or discomfort around the outer part of the female genitals, called the vulva. It lasts at least three months and has no clear cause. Symptoms are burning, pain, stinging, discomfort, aching, throbbing & swelling.
Vaginitis describes various disorders that cause the vagina to become infected or inflamed. Vulvovaginitis refers to inflammation of both the vagina and vulva. They can result from an infection caused by organisms like bacteria, yeast or viruses. Vaginitis can be confused with vaginismus which sounds similar but is a condition that prevents women from being able to tolerate penetration.
‘If you have a vagina, then you need to know about these conditions that may affect you during your lifetime to save you from feeling confused, alone and embarrassed. Self-awarness is key to sexual wellness’.
Dyspareunia is the clinical term for painful vaginal touch and intercourse. Not to be confused with Dysorgasmia which is a condition below causing painful orgasm during and after intimacy. It is defined as a persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after sexual intimacy. The causes of dyspareunia can appear unknown and it can be managed and treated with a variety of interventions.
Dysorgasmia is a type of orgasmic disorder which is the experience of a painful orgasm in the abdomen and pelvic area. The condition may be experienced during or after orgasm, sometimes several hours after the orgasm has occurred.
Vulvar vestibulitis also referred to as VVS is a type of pain in the vulva region in the vestibule which is around the opening of the vagina. It can be caused by penetration or insertion of tampons etc. causing redness, irritation and pain of the skin and glands inside the skin.
Lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that causes itchy white patches around the vulva, on the genitals or other parts of the body. It usually causes itching and white patches, pain during intimacy, fragile skin and discomfort during the night. If you suspect you have lichen sclerosis contact a gynaecologist for the correct treatment.
Anorgasmia is a female orgasmic disorder causing delayed, infrequent or absent orgasms, or significantly less intense orgasms after sexual arousal and adequate sexual stimulation. Women can still enjoy intimacy and experience pleasure but struggle to reach orgasm. If you experience anorgasmia consider working with a psychosexual therapist to get to the root of the problem and worth through any psychosexual and somatic barriers which may be preventing you from having orgasm.
Love podcasts? Take a listen to the latest podcasts featuring Psychosexual Therapist, Coach and Sexual health promotion facilitator Orlagh Reid discussing the many aspects of female sexuality, endometriosis and sex therapy here - podcasts!
Treatment options for these 8 vulvar conditions
There are plenty of treatment and intervention considerations if you are experiencing any of these female conditions. Do not let fear, embarrassment, shame or anxiety hold you back from getting treatment and talking with a supportive professional. Here are some considerations:
- Don’t be afraid to talk to a close friend, partner, GP or local health nurse.
- Inform yourself about the condition online via reputable websites, books and podcasts.
- Talk to your GP & doctor and bring along a list of symptoms and concerns.
- Talk to your local pharmacist who may be able to suggest relevant leaflets and pharmaceutical products as a first step.
- Visit a gynaecologist or OBGYN.
- Attend a women’s health clinic for specific treatment and appointments for women.
- Consider working with a Specialist Pelvic Physiotherapist who provide treatment for GPPPD and various sexual disorders affecting women.
- Start psychosexual therapy (visit orlaghreid.ie) and get help, support and psychotherapeutic support managing the condition.
- Read my Vaginismus Series blog which is for women with vaginismus and related vulvar conditions.