Vulvar pain: A phenomenological study of couples in search of effective diagnosis and treatment

Jennifer J. Connor, Bean Robinson, Elizabeth Wieling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (VVS), a vulvar pain disorder, continues to puzzle medical and mental health professionals due to its unknown etiology and lack of effective treatment. This study used transcendental phenomenology methodology to explore the experiences of couples in which the woman has a diagnosis of VVS. Sixteen in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 heterosexual couples and 3 women. Four essences emerged: (1) In search of ... the medical journey required extensive searching for knowledgeable and respectful practitioners to provide treatment. (2) The process of developing a personal understanding of this disorder led many couples to question their role in causing and maintaining VVS. (3) Developing strategies for coping with painful intercourse led to three strategies: becoming non-sexual, using alternatives to vaginal sex, and altering or enduring painful intercourse. (4) Feelings of isolation were experienced as adapting to this chronic pain syndrome was often a lonely process. Clinical suggestions included: treating the couple, not just the woman with VVS; encouraging couples to broaden definitions about the importance and primacy of vaginal intercourse and suggest alternative sexual activities less likely to cause vulvar pain; developing shared meaning as a couple, and assisting couples in locating physicians and resources. Suggestions are relevant for couples with VVS and those with chronic health problems affecting sexual relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-155
Number of pages17
JournalFamily process
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Couples Therapy
  • Vulvar Pain
  • Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome


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