Please tell us a little bit about vulvodynia for those who aren’t familiar with it.
Vulvodynia affects the vulva, the external female genital organs. This includes the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. Women with Vulvodynia have chronic vulvar pain with no known cause. Until recently, doctors didn’t recognize this as a real pain syndrome. Even today, many women do not receive a diagnosis. Women may go years being incorrectly diagnosed. They may also remain isolated by a condition that is not easy to discuss. Researchers are working hard to uncover the causes of Vulvodynia and to find better ways to treat it.
There are two main subtypes of vulvodynia:
Generalized vulvodynia is pain in different areas of the vulva at different times. Vulvar pain may be constant or occur every once in a while. Touch or pressure may or may not prompt it. But this may make the pain worse.
Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome is pain in the vestibule. This is the entrance to the vagina. Often a burning sensation, this type of vulvar pain comes on only after touch or pressure, such as during intercourse.
When did you first realize you had the condition?
About 5 years ago it started as a mild pain only during intercourse in the vulva. Over the next year, intercourse became unbearable. I went to my gynecologist that did some of my surgeries when the pain started. He thought it could be scar tissue as well. He told me if sex hurt to drink some wine and take Advil. That was in the beginning stages before the pain became worse. Then he realized it was serious, but still didn’t give me a diagnosis and was confused about what was causing the pain. I actually asked him if I had something called Vulvodynia because I found it on the Internet. He agreed that it probably was Vulvodynia.
What were your symptoms?
It felt like someone was stabbing me with a knife and burning me at the same time. Intercourse would trigger the pain and it would still burn after we would finish having sex. Nothing helped the pain or made it go away.
Were you worried you and your partner would drift apart because it was affecting your sex life so much?
I was very upset that I could not have sex. My husband was very supportive and never made me feel bad about the fact that intercourse was painful.
Did it strengthen other areas of your relationship?
We have always had a strong relationship. He helped me search for treatments and actually helped me decide how to incorporate magnets into a vaginal dilator for pelvic pain when I told him I needed to try magnet therapy.
What would your advice be to the partners of women who are suffering from this?
You have to stay strong and remain hopeful. Don’t let this condition define you as a person and become who you are. Focus on all of the blessings in your life. Surround yourself with a support system. Vulvodynia and pelvic pain forums have really helped me and many other women.
Please tell us a little bit about your lightbulb moment and how this turned into creating your medical device.
After suffering for two years, and doing a lot of my own research, I decided to try vaginal dilator therapy. Vaginal dilators are used every day in pelvic floor physical therapy and recommended by doctors. From my previous positive experience using magnets to reduce back and neck nerve pain after a car accident, I had the idea to incorporate neodymium magnets into a dilator set for pelvic pain. So I took a set of dilators and made a neodymium magnet insert to put inside. I used the magnetic dilators for two weeks and then had sex with my husband for the first time in months with less pain than normal. I thought to myself, I have to make this for all women. No matter what it takes, I have to start this company. I then spent night and day with my business partner Rob Smithson to create VuVa Magnetic Dilators.
Do you feel your relationship is in any way better for having gone through what you have together?
Our relationship is definitely stronger, and now we spend our days shipping VuVa dilators to women all over the world with pelvic pain.
What would you advise women to do who suspect they might have this condition?
If you think you have Vulvodynia, or another pelvic pain condition, please consult with a pelvic pain specialist or a pelvic floor physical therapist. Pelvic floor physical therapists commonly recommend vaginal dilators for painful intercourse treatment. You can read about different pelvic pain conditions at VuVatech.com
How does it make women feel given that it not only impacts them but their partner too?
All women understand that it impacts their partner. The fact that sex is painful and they might not be able to please their husbands is constantly on their minds. I am a part of several support groups and forums. The number one topic women post about it pain, the second is about how it is impacting their relationship with their partner. There is a difference between a supportive partner who will help you find other ways to create pleasure, and a non-supportive partner who makes you feel guilty or ashamed you cannot have intercourse. It is possible to have a healthy, successful sexual relationship without vaginal penetration.