I began learning about sexual pain disorders taking postmaster's classes for Sex Therapy. I was surprised to learn about females who have experienced pain during intercourse - often since their first sexual experience. I read about traumatic experiences during their OBGYN visits, even chronic pain which kept them from using tampons and for many avoided penetration of any type. I learned about many sexual pain disorders like Dyspareunia, Generalized Vulvodynia, High Tone Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, Vaginismus, Interstitial Cystitis, etc. I began asking my clients “does it hurt during sex?”. To my surprise, a lot of females responded “yes”. I further explored this phenomenon and heard stories about how most of them were just 'dealing with it' after frustration and not getting helpful advice or solutions. Sometimes there was a burning sensation during intercourse - and for some chronically throughout the day. Some people described a burning or cutting sensations while others explained their vaginal muscles spasmed to the point penetration was impossible and/or severely painful.
I learned this is a newer field and a lot of physician's practices are focused on other areas of treatment. Luckily, I learned we have some great physicians/practitioners and physical therapists (called Pelvic Floor Therapists) who specialize in treating these disorders and I try and spend as much time working and learning with them to stay on top of the best treatments. I learned how Psychotherapists who specialize in treating sexual disorders spend sessions treating pain disorders with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other modalities. These interventions can play a huge role in helping due to the anxiety symptoms, sexual functioning and/or other mental health symptoms that can often be co-occurring, causing or a result of these pain disorders. A lot of research shows a team approach effectively helps treat these often complex issues from many angles. Psychotherapists help explore possible root causes including sexual abuse, childbirth or other traumatic sexual experiences. I spend a lot of time working with the individual or couple on ways to work through these pain issues and still keep, or establish intimacy while also following medical recommendations from their practitioners and/or pelvic floor therapists. Each story is unique and has it's own challenges but I've seen couples grow closer through these struggles and have a more intimate sex life as a result which I feel is very significant for the purpose of this journey.
By Brock Searcy
Photo courtesy of Cristina Matei