Vulvodynia is a chronic pain that can be perceived as burning or stinging in the area around the opening of the vagina (vulva) for which there is no identifiable cause. The pain, burning or irritation associated with vulvodynia may make you so uncomfortable that sitting for long periods or having sex becomes unthinkable.

The absence of visible signs or embarrassment may refrain the woman from discussing the symptoms and keep her from seeking help. There are treatment options which are available to lessen the pain and discomfort.


The main vulvodynia symptom is pain in the genital area, along with burning, soreness, stinging, rawness, painful intercourse, throbbing and itching. The pain may be constant or occasional and can last for months or even years, but it can vanish as suddenly as it started. You may feel the pain in the entire vulvar area, localized to a certain area, such as the opening of the vagina.

Vestibulodynia is a  similar condition which may cause pain only when pressure is applied to the area surrounding the entrance to the vagina. Vulvar tissue may look minimally inflamed or swollen. Otherwise, the vulva appears normal.


Doctors don't know what causes vulvodynia, but contributing factors may include:

  • Injury to or irritation of the nerves surrounding the vulvar region
  • Past vaginal infections
  • Allergies or sensitive skin
  • Hormonal changes

Most women with vulvodynia have no known causes. Vulvodynia isn't sexually transmitted or a sign of cancer.

Risk factors

  • Since the cause is poorly understood, it is difficult to predict who is at risk for vulvodynia. It can affect women of all ages and races. It can begin as early as adolescence and can occur both before and after menopause.


It can be painful and frustrating and can keep the woman from wanting to have sex and cause emotional problems such as spasms in the muscles around the vagina (vaginismus). Other complications may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Altered body image
  • Relationship problems
  • Decreased quality of life


What causes vulvodynia is not known, so we don't know specifically how to prevent it. In general, a woman should minimize trauma and irritation of the vulvar region. This includes eliminating the use of chemicals such as those contained  in perfumed sanitary pads, powders, feminine hygiene deodorants, creams and soaps. Women should avoid excessive genital washing and douching. They should also take precautions against infections by wearing white cotton underwear, not sitting in a wet bathing suit, etc. If a vaginal infection is suspected, it is important to have it diagnosed and treated promptly, and to let the physician know if any treatments are making the condition worse.