Tips for Partners
- Learn about vulvodynia. The more you know about the condition the easier it is to understand your partner’s situation and help her get help.
There are informative websites, articles and books that will help you understand that vulvodynia is a real pain condition – Resources.
- Take your partner seriously – women with vulvodynia are often told or think at some point that the pain is “all in their heads”. Let your partner know that you know her pain is real and not her fault. Watch our online forum “When Sex Hurts” together to learn more about vulvodynia.
- The pain is not your fault. Your partner does not have the pain because you are a bad lover or because you are sexually unattractive.
- Talk about it. It is normal to have fears and feelings of frustration associated with vulvodynia. It helps to talk openly about these feelings without attaching any blame. Having difficulty talking with your partner? Consider seeing a sex or couple therapist. Therapists can help partners find various ways to express their care and affection for each other and help couples cope with the sexual fallout associated with vulvodynia.
- Remind your partner that she is still attractive, desirable, and sexual. Vulvodynia often affects a woman’s whole view of herself and her sexuality.
- There is more to sex then intercourse/penetration. Plan and create sexual experiences that will be pleasurable for you both. Be creative with your partner; discuss what activities are “on or off the menu”. Experiment with non-painful sexual activity in your relationship. Allow your partner to decide if and when intercourse/penetration is included and whether it continues on any given occasion. Doing so will allow your partner to have a sense of control, which can be associated with less intense pain.
- Not all couples are the same and each woman’s experience with vulvodynia is different. Thus what works for one woman may not be appropriate for another woman. Discuss any advice you receive with a health care professional to see if it is appropriate to your situation.
- Be a team. Discuss with your partner whether she would like you to be included in her treatment visits (e.g., doctor’s appointments; physiotherapy appointments). Doing so can help you learn more about vulvodynia and about different strategies available to help your partner manage her pain.
- Think about how you react to your partner’s pain. Partner reactions that encourage efforts at coping with the pain in a helpful way may help to reduce the intensity of a woman’s vulvar pain and improve her sexual satisfaction. For example, express happiness when you and your partner are engaging in sexual activity or let your partner know that she is pleasuring you. In contrast, exaggerated expressions of sympathy, attention, and support (e.g., suggesting that you stop sexual activity, offer comfort, or asking how you can help) may in fact increase the intensity of pain. Avoid, expressing anger, irritation, disappointment or frustration towards your partner.
- What about me? It is important to remember that every individual’s experience is unique. You may or may not be struggling to cope with the presence of vulvodynia in your relationship and you may or may not feel that vulvodynia has had a negative impact on your self-perception and feelings about your relationship. If you have been affected, it can be helpful to speak to a therapist or mental health professional. Ask your doctor for a referral if you are considering seeking professional help.
Some of the above information has been borrowed or adapted from:
The website of Dr. Caroline Pukall and partner responses handouts provided by Dr. Natalie Rosen