Vaginal Problems That Affect Your Sex Life
Vaginal disorders ranging from chronic infections to vaginitis, fibroids, and stress incontinence can damage your sexual health and general well-being.
I’m 20 years old. My knees are apart, and my feet are anchored in cold metal
stirrups. A doctor is shining a bright, hot light between my legs, prodding me
gently with a Q-tip, peppering me with questions. I’m here, in a place where no
woman wants to be, because the incessant itching, pain, and burning that
plagued me for two years has gotten so severe I can barely tolerate underwear,
let alone the “luxuries” -- tampons, intercourse, and tight jeans -- that my
college roommates take for granted.
As it would turn out, I was in luck on that tepid spring day back in 1998.
For this amazingly compassionate Cleveland doctor -- the 11th gynecologist I
would see in my quest for answers -- was able to finally give me something
nobody else could: A diagnosis of vulvar vestibulitis and a treatment plan.
My story isn’t unique. At some point in their lives, millions of women will
suffer from a range of common and less common gynecological or urological
conditions, including chronic infections, vulvodynia, vaginal dryness,
fibroids, and stress incontinence with intercourse.
While each experience (and diagnosis) is different, many women will discover
their illness goes beyond physical symptoms to affect their sex lives and even
their general state of mind. Indeed, “these conditions may negatively impact
women’s physical, emotional, relational, and/or sexual well-being,” says Helen
Coons, PhD, ABPP, president and clinical director of Women’s Mental Health
Associates in Philadelphia.
Following are the most commonly diagnosed health problems “down there.”
The itching, burning, and pain associated with vaginitis results from a
disruption in the natural balance of bacteria that live in every healthy
vagina. There’s no single cause. Common culprits include hormonal changes due
to birth control pills, menopause, or pregnancy as well as chronic medical
conditions, such as HIV and diabetes, which weaken the immune system. Frequent
sexual intercourse and sex with multiple partners can be to blame as well. Of
the many types of infectious and noninfectious vaginitis, the following four
are the most common.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is “the most common vaginal infection in
women of reproductive age,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Women with BV may have a copious, thin grayish-white discharge -- or they may
Some studies suggest that untreated BV can cause pelvic inflammatory
disease, which can lead to infertility, so it’s important to seek treatment
from a health care provider, says Susan Kellogg, CRNP, PhD, director of Vulvar
Pain and Sexual Medicine at the Pelvic & Sexual Health Institute in
Philadelphia. Fortunately, BV is easily treated with oral or vaginal
Yeast infections caused by the overgrowth of one of several strains
of Candida, a fungus that lives normally in the vagina, are also common; three
in four women will have at least one at some point in their life. Women may
notice a thick white discharge with a slight odor. However, many women complain
of genital itching, soreness, or irritation.