Listening to the voices of women diagnosed with vulvodynia: A model for sexuality education

Susan Kellogg-Spadt, University of Pennsylvania


In the field of human sexuality, a goal is to provide education to populations who face challenges in intimate relationships. The present research addressed the learning needs of women who experience a type of chronic sexual pain that interferes with their ability to be physically intimate. A condition known as “vulvodynia” causes a sensation of severe, prohibitive genital burning in association with any form of vaginal penetration. Women with this condition often view themselves as “abnormal” because of a cultural sexual script that equates coitus with adequate sexual functioning. Women with vulvodynia often have difficulty adapting their behavior and attitudes in a resilient fashion. Previous research suggests that many avoid all physically intimate behaviors, which negatively impacts their emotional well-being. Professional sources suggest that education about physical intimacy is critical for women with vulvodynia, but inadequate education at the time of diagnosis, and factors in women's personal, familial and cultural systems, may contribute to the phenomenon of avoidance. Descriptive research about sexual adaptation and education of women with vulvodynia is lacking in the professional literature. The present study assessed adaptation to vulvodynia through the administration of quantitative questionnaires to 100 women and qualitative interviews with 12 women, all diagnosed with vulvodynia. Quantitative and qualitative analysis resulted in five key findings: (1) at the time of diagnosis, women with vulodynia were infrequently given any relevant sexuality education by healthcare providers; (2) women viewed sexuality education as most useful when it included facts about vulvodynia and partner communication issues; (3) a written sexuality education format was considered most useful; (4) multiple system factors influenced adaptation to vulvodynia, including: women's developmental levels, personal competency, gender role models, support from family members, partners, peers and healthcare providers; (5) resilient adaptation to sexual pain involved the rescripting of initiation patterns and intimate behaviors. The study concluded that sexuality education for women with vulvodynia should include accessible written information that presents accurate facts about the disorder and interpersonal rescripting information.

Subject Area

Health education|Obstetrics|Gynecology

Recommended Citation

Kellogg-Spadt, Susan, "Listening to the voices of women diagnosed with vulvodynia: A model for sexuality education" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043895.