Vulvodynia; when a depressed vagina strikes

vulvodynia
image: Stas Svechnikov

Most people who own a vagina are aware that they have moods. Vaginal moods are usually confined to a “come hither” or “go thither” type mood, however there is one barely spoken of and often misunderstood mood – depression. Yep, a depressed vagina, or vulvodynia to be precise.

And a depressed vagina suffers from acute pain and burning for no apparent reason.

Until recently many doctors didn’t recognise this as a real disorder, however Head of Vulva Disorders Unit at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, Dr Ross Pagano, intimately understands the mystery that is this exquisitely painful disorder.

“Vulvodynia is defined by vulva pain, soreness, irritation where there is no pathology. Basically, it’s a hypersensitivity of the vulva. The problem in the past is that women have gone to the doctor with these symptoms, doctors find the vulva looks quite normal and the women have been labeled psychologically disturbed and are sent to a sex therapist,” say Dr Pagano.

Vulvodynia, also known as burning vulva syndrome, is not a sexual or hormonal issue, nor is it psychological, however left untreated it is certainly enough to drive you to the brink of despair, and depression of the entire body and mind may ensue.

The vulva has more nerve endings than any other area of the body and vulvodynia occurs when the nerves endings go into overdrive. It may be triggered after sex without adequate lubrication, following a case of thrush or even childbirth but once those pesky little nerve endings are on fire your ultra-painful vagina is virtually untouchable.

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Sex is out, tampons are out and you can forget about riding a bike.

“It is known that women who get vestibulodynia (the commonest form of vulvodynia which occurs just inside the vagina) are born with a much higher concentration of nerve endings in the vulva vestibule than the average woman. If those nerve endings are damaged, off they go with this incredible discomfort,” says Dr Pagano. “Most of the patients I see can’t have intercourse at all, and many have not for years.”

Although getting a diagnosis may be tricky, thankfully once the condition is recognised there is a high success rate for making your melancholy vagina ecstatic once more, about 90 per cent says Doctor Pagano.

“The first thing we do is put the patient onto a drug that is an antidepressant. It’s a drug that they discovered was useless for depression but it was very good for nerve pain,” says Dr Pagano.

If your glum vagootz doesn’t respond to the antidepressant, physiotherapy can yield positive results and, in worst case scenarios, a simple operation removing the small part of the vulva where the hymen sat can alleviate the issue. But treatment can only begin once you finally understand why your pants are on fire.

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“The biggest thing I find, is being able to give women a diagnosis,” says Dr Pagano. “She may have experienced pain for no apparent reason for years and seen other doctors. Sometimes women wonder if they can’t be helped. The relief, the joy, that many women feel at just knowing that someone understands what is happening to her is often one of the happiest moments.”

The journey from a dispirited vajayjay to being happy as a clam may only be a doctor’s trip away so if you think you’re harbouring a depressed vagina in your undies, get on the happy juice and get back on the bike… or, you know, get laid.

If you are worried, book an appointment with your GP for a correct diagnosis.

 

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Watch Vagina Monologues creator, Eve Ensler talking about the happiness in body and soul (and vaginas.)