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  • Writer's pictureMUSK Health

Publication: “It’s all my fault.” A qualitative study about vulvodynia

MUSK Health's Linn Myrtveit Stensrud, along with colleagues, has recently published a study on how heterosexual couples experience living with vulvodynia.

Key Message: For couples, the prevailing lack of knowledge about vulvodynia limits communication with partners and health care personnel, resulting in both avoidance and endurance behavior, which in turn increases pain.


Introduction: Vulvodynia, a chronic genital pain disorder with a high lifetime prevalence among women, has a significant negative impact on both women and their partners. While there is a growing body of literature on the experiences of women with vulvodynia, there has been little research on the condition’s implications for partners and romantic relationships. The aim of this study is to explore how heterosexual couples experience living with vulvodynia.

Material and methods: Eight Norwegian women diagnosed with vulvodynia by gynecologists were recruited with their partners (couples aged 19-32 years). Data was collected via individual semi-structured interviews and analyzed using inductive thematic analysis.

Results: Three main themes emerged from the analysis: 1) Mysterious disorder, 2) Social exclusion, and 3) Sexual expectations. The results show that the couples struggle with understanding the pain, as well as navigating their social and sexual lives. We discuss these findings in light of a new theoretical model: the fear-avoidance-endurance model of vulvodynia. Conclusion: Heterosexual couples living with vulvodynia experience communication difficulties with partners, health professionals and their social network. This sustains avoidance and endurance behavior, increasing pain and dysfunction over time and giving rise to feelings of powerlessness and loneliness. Social expectations regarding male and female sexuality also promote guilt and shame for both parties in couples affected by vulvodynia. Our results suggest that heterosexual couples living with vulvodynia, as well as health professionals treating them, should be helped to communicate more effectively in order to break vicious circles of maladaptive avoidance and endurance behavior.

Authors: Linn Myrtveit Stensrud1; Gro Killi Haugstad1, PhD; Silje Endresen Rème2, professor; Sidsel Louise Schaller2; Karen Synne Groven1, professor

1: Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway

2: University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Funding information: This article is part of a Ph.D. project funded by the Norwegian Women Public Health Association (project number 40017).


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