by Robin Gerber | bio

A very close friend told me recently that she was diagnosed with a condition new to my ears: vulvodynia. Her story makes me furious.

Turns out that for about a hundred years women have been complaining about pain in their genital region. The pain may be burning or stinging, sometimes constant, sometimes just upon pressure like during intercourse. For some women, the pain is so severe they have trouble sitting for long periods of time.

Vulvodynia is hard to diagnosis, and for a long time the medical establishment didn’t try very hard. Throughout most of the last century, if a woman complained about vaginal pain she was told she was imagining it. She was told she was crazy. She was told she was frigid and phobic.

Finally, in 1988, the medical causes of vulvodynia were identified. Since then there’s been a gradual awakening to the reality of this condition and increased research into finding cures. An episode of “Sex and the City” showed the sexually uptight Charlotte being diagnosed with vulvodynia, and a recent story in The New York Times gives an excellent overview of the problem and identifies potential causes and treatments.

More recently, the National Vulvodynia Association, founded in 1994 by five women with the condition, has succeeded in raising awareness and promoting research at the National Institutes of Health. All good news. But many women end up seeing multiple doctors before receiving a correct diagnosis because awareness among doctors is still lagging.

I hope my friend, now finally diagnosed, will find relief from pain. She is certainly relieved to know that what seemed so real was in fact real and not “in her head” as so many doctors had told her. Unfortunately, she is facing various long-term treatments and a definitive cure isn’t yet available. And that’s what makes me furious.

Let’s imagine for a minute that, for the last century or so, one in six men had chronic or intermittent pain in their penis when they had intercourse. Does anyone doubt that a man could get a penile transplant today as easily as a condom? Can any of us imagine that men would have been told that they were imagining things? That they were just sexually uptight? Not likely.

Women have paid dearly for a medical establishment dominated by men. We’re still finding out just how dearly.

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  • Abigail March 28, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    It is exciting that more people now know what vulvodynia is. I felt quite alone when I was diagnosed, and my struggle to return to health and normalcy was very lonely. I’ve started a blog in the hopes of putting a positive voice out there regarding this issue. I hope many women take comfort in a story of healing!