Relationship Advice for Women with Vulvodynia and Couples:
Your vulvar pain is likely affecting your romantic life in some way. Experiencing vulvar pain can lead to avoidance of sexual activities, especially when the pain is directly linked to sexual activity (as in the case of provoked vestibulodynia, or PVD). Your sexual self-esteem, sexual desire and arousal, and relationship may suffer. It is important for you and your partner to recognize that vulvodynia does not just affect the vulva, but your entire perception of your sexuality.
The following are some suggestions for dealing with relationship aspects of vulvodynia.
For Women with Vulvodynia in a Relationship
- Seek information on your own. The more you know about vulvodynia, the more control you have over your situation.
- Some women find that joining a support group or a chatroom for women with vulvar pain is helpful. It is important to know that you are not alone – and you are not.
- Not all vulvodynia sufferers are the same; although joining an online support group helps break the isolation, it is important to consult a health professional before applying some of the advice received through the group. Keep in mind that not everything said in vulvodynia chatrooms applies to all situations or to all women with vulvodynia.
- Participate in non-painful sexual activities (e.g., masturbation, oral sex). Sexual activity is more than vaginal penetration. Be creative with your partner; find out what activities are pain-free and enjoy them.
- Do not blame yourself. Being a person with chronic pain is not your fault.
- It is helpful to talk about your fears with your partner – both of you might be afraid of emotional or physical abandonment. Clear communication can build your relationship. You might want to consult a sex or couple therapist to help you with this aspect of your relationship.
- Your partner may feel rejected because of the limitations on sexual activity. It may be helpful to include him/her in your treatment visits (e.g., at the doctor’s office, psychotherapy, pelvic floor physiotherapy). Often, some of the techniques you learn through these therapies can be incorporated into foreplay and sexual activity by your partner. This may help him/her feel like part of your treatment and understand better that you are not rejecting him/her, but rather that it is your pain condition that is at the source of your diminished interest in sexuality. It may also be a way for your partner to get much needed support of his/her own.
- Sex or couple therapists can help women and their partners confront difficult issues that arise when sexual dysfunction is present in a relationship due to pain, and help the couple explore alternative avenues of expressing love and affection.
For Partners of Women with Vulvodynia
- Research vulvodynia (e.g., articles, websites).
- Listen actively to your partner – acknowledge her fears and frustrations.
- Communicate your fears and frustrations to your partner, and ask her to acknowledge them.
- Vulvodynia may lead the two of you to question your attractiveness as a person and toward one another. Remind your partner that she is still attractive, sexual, and feminine. Ask her to do the same for you.
- Take your partner seriously. Even if doctors do not find a physical reason for her pain, reassure her that you know it is real.
- Remember that the pain is not your fault. She does not have the pain because you are a bad lover or because you are sexually unattractive.
- If you feel isolated, some partners might find it helpful to join a support group or chatroom.
- Not all vulvodynia couples are the same; although joining an online support group helps break the isolation, it is important to consult a health professional before applying some of the advice received through the group. Keep in mind that not everything said in vulvodynia chatrooms applies to all situations or to all women with vulvodynia.