“Constant knife-like pain” and “feels like someone poured acid onto my skin” are how some women described the pain. The vulva is meant to protect a women’s sexual organs, but for many women, it is a source of chronic pain called vulvodynia.

What is Vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is vulvar pain that does not have an identifiable cause. Pain can be in a single vulvar area or multiple areas. Symptoms include burning, stinging, aching, swelling, and rawness, to name a few. The severity varies from woman to woman and is labeled into two categories: localized or generalized vulvodynia.

Localized (Pain in only one vulvar site)

  • Vestibulodynia– Most women have this type which is located in the tissue surrounding the vaginal opening and only experience when the vulvar area is provoked.
  • Provoked Vestibulodynia (PVD)– Pain occurs after pressure is applied by sexual intercourse, tampon insertion, gynecological exam, sitting for long periods, and wearing tight-fitting legwear.
  • Clitorodynia– Pain in the clitoris.


  • Pain is sporadic but constant.
  • Women will experience some periods of relief.
  • An exacerbation can occur when pressure is applied such as sexual intercourse and sitting for long periods.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your gynecologist will take your health and sexual history and do a careful vaginal examination. A sample of any discharge may be taken, as well as a vulvar skin biopsy in some cases. A cotton swab will also be used to test the level of vulvar pain you are experiencing.

What causes vulvodynia is not clear but could be the result of different variables combined. These could be the result of things like inflammation of the vulva, genetic disorders, specific food sensitivities, and reactions to irritants. Treatment may require a multi-faceted provider approach. In addition to seeing your gynecologist, you could also need to see a neurologist, dermatologist, pain management specialist, as well as a therapist for impacted sexual relationships.

What you Can Do

As an add-on to the treatment regimen your doctor recommends, there are other things you can do to help minimize/relieve symptoms. Some of the recommendations from the ACOG are:

  • Wear 100% cotton underwear only.
  • Use water only to clean the vulvar area.
  • If using menstrual period pads, switch to 100% cotton ones.
  • Use cool gel packs on the vulvar area.
  • Avoid douching.

Because there is no apparent cause, clinical research plays an essential role in providing effective treatment options. If you have been diagnosed with, or are experiencing symptoms of vulvodynia, we are conducting research studies looking into alternative treatment options. To learn more, click HERE. Qualified participants may receive medication not yet available to the public, care from a board-certified gynecologist, as well as reimbursement for time and travel.