By Alexis Gordon, Daily Free Press Staff Writer
College-aged women can be affected by vulvodynia, a burning condition that causes pain during sex, without even knowing it.
Vulvodynia is characterized by pain and burning near and around the vulva that occurs without a known cause, according to the National Vulvodynia Association. It can disrupt daily life, relationships and a woman’s emotional self-image.
Nerves, a skin condition or an unknown infection contribute to vulvodynia, said Nancy Levin Mcgrath, a sex therapist certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
“What can happen is that when a young woman tries to have intercourse is that it hurts and things may feel tight, she may automatically attribute it to that she is scared or nervous,” she said. “It could be those reasons, but one of those things that if you are not sure that it is an emotional reason, it is a good idea to go have an exam with a gynecologist who specializes with female pain problems.”
About 16 percent of women in the U.S. suffer from vulvodynia in their lifetime, according to a Harvard University study. Initial symptoms occur highest among women between the ages of 18 and 25, according to another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association.
Mcgrath has dealt with many women and their partners that have gone through vulvodynia.
She said it can be very emotionally straining on the woman’s partner as much as it is on the woman, as her partner might think they are doing something wrong or they are unattractive.
Mcgrath said if someone has symptoms of vulvodynia, it is wise to see a sex therapist first to find out if the pain is caused mentally or by a medical condition.
If it is a medical condition, she said women should seek out a gynecologist that specializes in in female vaginal pain, where they can provide proper treatment. If left unchecked, vulvodynia can worsen and greatly disrupt a woman’s daily and sexual life, Mcgrath said.
Even though vulvodynia affects both men and women, many people do not know about it.
Julia Schryver, a sophomore in Boston University’s College of General Studies, said vulvodynia is not discussed because it is a woman’s personal problem.
“People are really uncomfortable with it because it is about sex and females,” she said, “and I think that in sort of a male-dominated society, it’s really hard to bring up that kind of issue, especially in mainstream media where things are directed to other subjects because so many people are uncomfortable with female sexuality.”