On Friday, August 7, I caught the 20/20 “medical mysteries” special on vulvodynia. According to the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), vulvodynia is defined as chronic vulvar pain without an identifiable cause (the vulvar is the external female genitals). In the special, there were three women who were diagnosed with vulvodynia, although it took quite some time before their doctors reached that diagnosis—one woman saw 16 doctors before anyone could tell her what was happening to her! Some of the doctors told the women that what was happening to them was all “in their head” and that they were imagining their pain! I was so frustrated hearing that; I could only imagine what those women were going through. 20/20 said that an estimated 20 million woman will experience vulvar and/or vaginal pain at some time in their life.
I was so grateful that ABC and 20/20 did a segment on vulvodynia, especially since I get emails and phone calls every day from women experience vulvar pain and do not know what causes it. There is still much that is not known about this matter (or many aspects of sexuality for that matter), and doing specials like this can only raise awareness towards these little-known issues. That being said, I found myself shaking my head at how oversimplified the segment made vulvodynia. The 20/20 special said that there were three main causes of vulvodynia; according to the NVA, researchers and doctors are not entirely sure what causes it, although they do have some theories. The lack of an identifiable cause can make it difficult to treat, yet the special made it seem that treatment was extremely simple and that one treatment method was all it took to “cure” the women of their vulvar pain (in reality, some women see many specialists as part of their treatment plan).
While the show was definitely a step in the right direction in that it brought awareness towards a sexuality and sexual health issue that many women experience, I thought it was missing some key elements that would have made the segment more accurate. If you would like more information about vulvodynia, please visit www.nva.org, the Web site for the National Vulvodynia Association. Also, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.