You can now get therapy for your 'depressed vagina'
Group therapy sessions could improve the quality of life of millions of women who suffer from a condition called vulvodynia, or ‘depressed vagina‘.
Yep, having a depressed vagina is an actual thing.
Remember that scene in ‘Sex and the City’ when Charlotte heads to our gynaecologist thinking she has thrush and is told she had a depressed vagina?
In medical terms, Charlotte was actually experiencing a condition known as vulvodynia, and it’s actually pretty common.
In 2014, The International Journal of Women’s Health estimated that 16 percent of women worldwide experience some form of vulvodynia in their lifetime.
According to the NHS vulvodynia is persistent, unexplained pain in the vulva (the skin surrounding the entrance to the vagina).
It can affect women of all ages, and often occurs in women who are otherwise healthy.
The main symptom of the condition is persistent pain—a burning, stinging or sore sensation—in and around the vulva, which can triggered by touch during sex or when inserting a tampon.
Some women also have problems such as vaginismus (where the muscles around the vagina tighten involuntarily), interstitial cystitis (a painful bladder condition), painful periods and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Though vulvodynia can be a long-term (chronic) problem that is very distressing for many to live with, according to a recent study many of those suffering could have their problems alleviated thanks to the support of group therapy sessions.
Researchers from Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland found most women with the condition experienced significant improvement in their symptoms after six months of “mindfulness-based group cognitive behaviour therapy.”
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy used to help manage problems by changing the way patients think and behave.
Though it is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, the treatment is also used for other mental and physical health problems.
According to the study, published in the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease, when compared with education support groups, group CBT showed greater improvement and it may offer “advantages in reducing distress associated with provoked localised vulvodynia”.
How to treat a depressed vagina
Shamir Patel, pharmacist and managing director of chemist-4-u.com, explained that vulvodynia can be hugely distressing to live with as it is a long-term issue.
“[Vulvodynia] can strike women of any age, and often occurs in women who are otherwise healthy,” he says.
Mr Patel says that the psychological benefits of things like CBT have been linked to the condition, but there are other options available to women suffering.
“Unlike STIs, which are treated with antibiotics, vulvodynia can be managed with anti-depressants, which alter pain perception rather than treat low mood.
“Conventional painkillers like paracetamol tend not to work with this condition, which can be stressful for many women trying to self-medicate.
According to Mr Patel aqueous cream and vaginal lubricants can help moisturise the area, and cool gel packs on your vulva can soothe the pain.
“Applying anaesthetic gel around 10 minutes before sex may improve symptoms and make it more comfortable,” he adds.
But he has a word of warning about the gel lidocaine, which is available over the counter, as it is known to damage latex condoms.
Mr Patel also explained that symptoms can often be managed by making certain lifestyle changes.
“Wear 100 per cent cotton underpants and loose fitting clothes and protect yourself from chlorine before swimming in pools by using vaseline.
“Mental wellbeing is also important. Therapy and counselling, like CBT, often help women cope with the impact vulvodynia has on their life.
“CBT focuses on the problems and difficulties you have now, and looks for practical ways you can improve your state of mind on a daily basis.
“Psychosexual counselling is also helpful when pain is affecting intimacy between you and your partner.”
News that CBT could help with conditions such as vulvodynia comes after Durex recently released an advertisement, which tackles the issue of women having painful sex.
The short video, which promotes the brand’s Naturals Intimate Gel, asks: “Why do we still put up with uncomfortable sex?”
The advert features a number of women in their 20s, and explores how vaginal dryness at certain times of the menstrual cycle can affect sexual pleasure.
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