• Pain in intercourse can have a huge impact on relationships.
• Some women would prefer to not be in a relationship or to end a relationship with their partner, rather than discuss their issues.
Pain during intercourse is a troubling secret for many women.
They might have intercourse as often as other normal couples but hide the pain from their partners.
Many never speak to a doctor. Others get brushed off when they seek help.
The doctor “might do an examination, and say, ‘There’s nothing wrong. Maybe you need more lubricant,’” clinical psychologist Natalie Mwangangi, told the Star.
“But using more lubricant won’t cure the pain.”
Jane Nyambura* was dismissed by health experts for five years and asked to try changing her sex positions after she complained of having painful intercourse.
"I knew it might hurt and that perhaps I would bleed. I was okay with that. It was part of the mythology. I imagined that, afterwards, I would stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, like the heroine in my own coming-of-age drama," she recounts.
Well, her imaginations were cut short. Nyambura had to stop the 'act' before it properly began.
" Excruciating pain at the opening of my vagina shocked me into total stillness – it felt like burning and ripping at once. I was so consumed with shame that I couldn’t have looked at my reflection if I had tried," she narrated.
This was the first time she experienced what she now knows as vulvodynia, an umbrella term for a condition characterised by chronic pain of the vulva.
According to the latest report by the WHO as many as 16 per cent of women experience the condition at some point.
Some have pain only during penetrative intercourse or when using tampons; for others, it is far more severe – their discomfort is such that they can barely sit down.
The pain itself is sharp and searing, and can range from giving the same sensation as severe thrush to feeling as if something inside you has been torn.
Juliet *, 33, first noticed a problem when she was 20 and tried to insert a tampon.
She continued to use sanitary towels and the problem didn’t occur again until she lost her virginity at 25.
Most victims are so used to experiencing discomfort that they tend to doubt themselves – and the severity of their pain. Is it really that bad? Maybe this is normal? Many of us can relate to this.Clinical Psychologist Natalie Mwangangi
“The problem stayed and never went away. The pain was so intense that I thought I was going to pass out.”,” she said.
Juliet went to several doctors, none of whom had answers.
In August 2018, she went for a smear test.
“I lay there in tears during what should have been a routine procedure,” she narrates.
She described the pain as “like a red hot poker; the worst pain I’ve experienced.”
Juliet was referred to a gynaecologist and was finally diagnosed with vulvodynia.
LACK OF INFORMATION
Susan*, 51, began to experience vulval pain 12 years ago, but it was eight years before it was properly diagnosed.
She said It started with a feeling of irritation in her genital area, especially when her legs were closed.
“I was finding myself standing with my legs apart. It got so bad that I couldn’t even put on a pair of pants. I couldn’t sit down at all,” she narrates.
“My doctor, no matter how fantastic he was, had no idea, because everything looked absolutely fine.”
Susan and the husband had never had of the condition.The doctor too did not have much information.
"My husband asked the doctor to look it up and he said: ‘I think that’s it, yes.’”
Mwangangi says there is no commonly agreed cause of the vulvodynia condition because it isn’t defined by any physical abnormality.
As a result, she said, those living with it are often misdiagnosed with a recurrent rash.
Others are repeatedly tested for sexually transmitted infections, or dismissed.
“This is a condition you can’t see objectively, it’s harder to understand,” Mwangangi said.
She said Vulvodynia is complicated by the fact that the condition is usually both physical and psychological – and so the problem will often not be one that can be seen on a scan.
But sadly, Mwangagi said, out of embarrassment, many women also don’t want to disclose their symptoms, meaning that many suffer in silence because they feel that they are the only one.
Some men have a misconception that if their partners are in pain, then they are doing it 'right'
This feeling of isolation is common among women who encounter pain during sex.
IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS
Mwangangi said pain during intercourse can also have a huge impact on relationships.
"Some women would prefer to not be in a relationship, or to end a relationship with their partner, rather than discuss their issues," she said.
Pain during intercourse can also be a symptom of conditions such as Vaginismus, endometriosis, fibroids, and vaginal dryness, as well as STIs, or even some kind of injury to the vulva or vagina.