Early-life Chronic Stressors, Rumination, and the Onset of Vulvodynia

Maheruh Khandker, Sonya S. Brady, Sarah A. Rydell, Rachel M. Turner, Pamela J. Schreiner, Bernard L. Harlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Introduction: Vulvodynia is a debilitating, chronic vulvar pain condition. Community-based case-control studies have consistently shown associations between early-life chronic stressors and vulvodynia onset. Aim: We examined rumination as a specific stress response involved in the psychobiological mechanism of vulvodynia. Methods: A psychosocial survey with questions specific to early-life traumatic events and rumination were administered to 185 matched case-control pairs of women with and without vulvodynia. Conditional logistic regression was used to examine associations between rumination constructs (ie, total rumination, emotion-focused, instrumental, and searching for meaning) and vulvodynia onset. Conditional logistic regression was also used to determine whether these associations depended on early-life stressors (ie, severity of childhood abuse and of self-reported antecedent traumatic events). Age at interview, antecedent pain disorders, any childhood abuse, and antecedent psychiatric morbidity were included as covariates. Main Outcome Measures: We estimated the odds of rumination in relation to the onset of vulvodynia within a community-based and clinically confirmed sample of women with and without vulvodynia. Results: Vulvodynia was associated with the highest tertile of emotion-focused (odds ratio [OR] = 2.1; 95% CI = 1.2, 3.2) and instrumental (OR = 2.1; 95% CI = 1.1, 4.0) rumination. These associations were attenuated after additional adjustment for antecedent psychiatric morbidity. Among women who reported rumination about early-life stressors before vulvar pain in cases or matched reference age in control subjects, those with vulvodynia were >2 times more likely to report the highest tertile of total rumination (OR = 2.3; 95% CI = 1.1, 5.0) compared with those without vulvodynia. Clinical Implications: Healthcare providers may be able to identify subsets of women who could benefit from preventive measures before the development of vulvodynia. Strength & Limitations: This is the first study to use a community-based and clinically confirmed sample of women with and without vulvodynia to examine the associations between rumination about early-life trauma and the onset of vulvodynia. However, as with all retrospective studies, the reporting of information (eg, traumatic events) was subject to recall bias and misclassification. Conclusion: Our findings indicate that a prolonged cognitive stress response (ie, rumination) may be 1 important mechanism by which early-life chronic stressors contribute to the onset vulvodynia. Prospective studies are recommended to examine whether and how cognitive, affective, and physiological components of prolonged stress responses interact to influence the development of vulvodynia. Understanding both the psychobiological and behavioral mechanisms may help in addressing and treating individuals to potentially reverse the development of vulvodynia. Khandker M, Brady SS, Rydell SA, et al. Early-life Chronic Stressors, Rumination, and the Onset of Vulvodynia. J Sex Med 2019;16:880–890.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)880-890
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Childhood Abuse
  • Early-Life Trauma
  • Perseverative Cogninition
  • Rumination
  • Vulvodynia
  • Women's Health


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