A problem with many names.
Often, women go years without seeking help for pain with sex. And when they finally look for help, they’re bombarded with a sea of terms that they’ve never even heard of before! It can be a little overwhelming to say the least.
It drives me nuts when women are diagnosed with medical terms without any explanation. As if we can’t handle details! Or maybe no one has an extra two minutes to explain them…
And have you ever noticed how most medical terms sound like something terrible? Whether you’re told you have dyspareunia or abysmal halitosis, it sounds like you should just crawl into a hole.
Often, it seems like using words that no one actually says in real life only adds to the confusion and overwhelm instead of clearing things up. And since people who are overwhelmed tend to have a harder time recovering, let’s clear a few things up and get rid of the overwhelm.
Here are three terms that have to do with painful sex (there will not be a test on this):
Dyspareunia (dys•pa•reu•ni•a): this is just a big word for “pain with sex” and it’s actually pretty common. This pain can be in the vagina, or anywhere in the pelvis or low back. It can occur before, during, or after sex. Dyspareunia isn’t a disease or pathology, it just describes the symptom. If you have pain with sex, people in the medical field (🙋🏻♀️ guilty) will call it dyspareunia because… “pain with sex” is… too direct? 🤷🏻♀️ If we are going to solve this problem, we need to be more direct!
Dyspareunia = pain with sex
Vulvodynia (vul•vo•dyn•i•a): some women have pain with even light touch of the vulva. The vulva is the outer lady bits (including the inner and outer labia, clitoris, and the area around the vagina). Basically if you didn’t have pants on and someone walked in the room, and you put your hand down to cover you “private parts,” you’d be covering the vulva. Often with vulvodynia, even a Q-tip touch to this area hurts.
Vulvodynia = pain with light touch “down there”
Vaginismus (vag•i•nis•mus): some women have muscle spasm or muscle tension in the muscles around the vagina. This is not really a problem in the vagina, but a problem in the pelvic floor muscles that surround the vagina. With vaginismus, women usually experience pain with vaginal penetration, but not light touch around the outside.
Vaginismus = muscle spasm around the vagina
Yes, there are more terms… and I’ll explain them in future posts… but these are the big three.
I explain these three all the time because women come to me saying, “one doctor told me I had dyspareunia, but another doctor told me I actually have vaginismus.” And now that we’ve just defined those words in direct, plain English, you can see the issue, right? Her dyspareunia (pain with sex) is probably caused by vaginismus (muscle spasm around the vagina).
Similarly, your vulvodynia (light touch down there hurts) would almost always lead to dyspareunia (pain with sex) and could also cause vaginismus (muscle spasm around the vagina) as your body reacts to the pain.
See?! These are just big confusing medical terms for easy-to-understand symptoms!
Though I haven’t fixed your pain (yet!)…
Hopefully this clears up the confusion and decreases overwhelm. This is an important step because overwhelm leads to inaction. And inaction means you won’t make changes and… your symptoms will stay the same!
If sex is painful, I do not want things to stay the same for you!
If sex is painful, let’s make some changes!