How One Woman Lives With Vulvodynia, a Condition That Puts Her in Debilitating Pain During Sex

Even the most sex-positive woman has had moments when sex is the absolute last thing she wants to do. You know, like when you've just gotten home from an exhaustingly long day and your partner wants to get it on, or when your Tinder date who turned out to be gross asks you to go home with him. The idea of sex is so unappealing, it almost sounds like torture.

But for one woman, sex is torture all the time—like "pouring acid on an open wound."

Starting with the very day she tried to lose her V card, Sarah Bradley, 25, has experienced unbearable pain every time she's attempted penetrative sex, according to the Daily Mail. For years, doctors told Bradley it was all in her head, that she just had "anxiety" about having sex.

But she knew it was more than that. Finally, earlier this year, a doctor properly diagnosed the medical condition she suffered from: localized provoked vulvodynia, or chronic, unexplained vaginal pain.

"It was such a relief to finally have a diagnosis, to finally learn that is wasn't all in my head," Bradley told the Daily Mail.

No one knows for sure what causes vulvodynia. But certain factors do seem to be at play, including yeast and other vaginal infections, skin allergies and sensitivity, hormonal changes, spasms or weakness in the muscles that support the pelvic area, nerve damage (possibly from childbirth), sensitivity to certain foods, and surgery or other trauma in the vaginal area. 

There are different types of vulvodynia. Localized provoked vulvodynia, which Bradley has, causes pain in just one area of the vagina, and it occurs only when pressure is applied, according to the National Vulvodynia Association. There's also general vulvodynia, when the pain is spontaneous and relatively constant. For women with this type, even sitting for a long time can be painful.

There's no one cure for the condition, but different treatments can alleviate symptoms. Bradley recently underwent surgery, and she's hoping it'll allow her to have a normal sex life for the first time ever. 

"I have never been able to tolerate more than half an inch of penis, an inch at most, because it's absolute agony," she said.  "I kept thinking, 'If I calm down everything will be fine,' but it never was."

She first noticed the problem when she tried to insert a tampon at age 13. But when she was 19, her then-undiagnosed condition turned dating into a nightmare. "It made dating almost impossible, the pain was intolerable and I would start associating the person I was seeing with pain, I just couldn't do it," she said.

Many of the guys she dated thought they could somehow cure her condition, that it wouldn't be painful with them. '"They would say things like, 'It'll be different with me,' and I'd be thinking, 'Good luck with that.'"

Recently, Bradley started dating someone who accepts her condition and is happy to wait to have sex until she finds a treatment that works for her.

"No one should have to live with chronic pain," she said. "Anyone suffering should get checked by a good doctor who will give them a thorough exam. It could really change their life."

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