The experiences of couples in which the woman has a diagnosis of vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (vvs) - a vulvar pain disorder has been highlighted by new research. The study also explores coping strategies that may help in dealing with emotional, relational, and sexual challenges.
In the research, Jennifer J. Connor, PhD, LMFT, Bean Robinson, PhD, LP, LMFT, Liz Wieling, PhD, LMFT and colleagues interviewed thirteen heterosexual couples.
The study investigated how both partners developed shared meaning about vvs through their experiences, observations, and conversations with each other.
The study found that both women and men identified their sexual relationship as bearing the largest burden from vvs, highlighting the importance of treating the couple, not just the woman.
Eight respondents reported experiencing tension in their intimate relationship, especially prior to receiving a vvs diagnosis.
However, the diagnosis helped remove doubts, distrust, and blame, and helped couples communicate more positively and develop a mutual understanding of the syndrome.
These couples stressed mutual support and acceptance as well as alternatives to intimacy that did not involve vaginal intercourse. All couples adapted their sexual lives to cope with pain, and they developed an emotional bond by going through these experiences together.
The couples' communication led them to develop a shared sense of meaning about vvs, allowing women to share feelings of guilt and men to develop identities as supportive partners.
The researchers found that as men learned more about vvs and how it affected their partner, that knowledge helped them recognize that their partner was not rejecting them personally.
"Encouraging couples to discuss their stories and experiences with medical professionals on their path towards arriving at an accurate diagnosis of vvs can be an important part of therapy," Connor said.
The study is published in the June 2008 issue of the Family Process.