Vulvodynia is a chronic pain in the vulva, the exterior female genitalia. The pain or discomfort has no obvious cause and can affect the labia, clitoris, or vaginal opening.
The International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease defines vulvodynia as chronic vulvar discomfort or pain characterized by burning, stinging, irritation or rawness of the female genitalia. Chronic is defined as existing for at least three to six months.
The cause of vulvodynia remains unknown. It may be the result of multiple factors. Physicians speculate that it may be caused by an injury to or irritation of the nerves that supply and receive input from the vulva; a localized hypersensitivity to yeast; an allergic response to environmental irritants; high levels of oxalate crystals in the urine; or spasm and/or irritation of the pelvic floor muscles. There is no evidence that vulvodynia is caused by an infection or that it is a sexually transmitted disease.
Regardless of the type of vulvodynia a woman has, the disorder imposes serious limitations on a woman’s ability to function and engage in normal daily activities. The pain can be so severe and unremitting that it forces women to resign from career positions, abstain from sexual relations, and limit physical activities. Not surprisingly, these limitations negatively affect a woman’s self-image; many women become depressed because of the physical pain itself and the associated psychological and social implication.