Aunt Vadge: chronic vaginal pain and redness

Hi Aunt Vadge,

I have had big problems for the past 3.5 years unfortunately.

I used a shea butter Vaseline jelly on my vagina 3.5 years ago as a sexual lubricant and have suffered ever since. Initially within hours I had stinging, inflammation, swelling, and after few weeks it went very red – that is, inside and outside of the visible area of my vagina. I had ups and downs, and it never cleared at all fully. Painful to touch, often simply by sitting.

What I’ve tried so far:

  • My first doctor said it would go away in a week or so and not to worry, and he gave me Gynoflor, but it made my vagina sting so I stopped.
  • The dermatologist prescribed Mycology (an anti-fungal), and this worked to clear up the redness on my vulva, but I was scared to use it inside my vagina.
  • A gynaecologist prescribed Daktarin cream (another antifungal) for three months, then cortisone cream (a steroid) after six months.
  • My new gynaecologist prescribed plain Vaseline and perfume-free baby oil.
  • I only washed with water for 1.5 years
  • A gyno also told me to use Saugella gel for dryness, but my mucosa went orange and very painful. 
  • My UK doctor told me to try bread soda baths, which I did a few of. She said it was vulvodynia, which was depressing after all these years. 
  • I use organic slips, pads, sometimes a simple cotton tissue to try to reduce friction with clothes, while wearing loose clothes and never ever used tampons.

It’s ruining many parts of my life (unfortunately it’s not something psychological but very real) and I would like to have a normal sexual life again. My periods also started to become irregular due to the stress or the medication, but that has resolved now. KY Jelly also irritates it. I sometimes have small reactions to facial creams, like stinging and I go straight and wash it off. 

One more thing! I had a baby 18 months ago by C-section. I conceived very fast. I had before and have now difficulties to have a normal sexual life due to this vagina skin problems. I would like to have more children in the future (I have a great husband), but we are having big sexual problems because of this… obviously.

I am now 32 (sounds more like I am 18 and doing silly things, I know ;)) and live in Europe. 

So that’s my story. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and think about my problem, and any magic ideas would be forever appreciated. 

Kind regards,
Living desperate

______

Dear Living Desperate,

That sounds unbearable.

Your mucous membranes have reacted very badly to the moisturising cream, and although it may seem like one bad decision has ruined your life, it is just as likely that this would have happened from something else you used vaginally for sex, including KY Jelly or condoms, or even a particular laundry detergent. Sensitive flesh will always find something to react to.

What’s likely is that you were already sensitive for some reason, and then the moisturiser has triggered this off – things never occur in isolation, even when it seems that way. Nothing just happens out of the blue for no reason – there is always a lead-up that you can’t always see very clearly, but if you could see inside yourself, there appears a clear sequence of events.

What you have is called vulvodynia, however as you well know, vulvodynia is a frightening prospect, since there doesn’t seem to be any one thing that helps everyone, and women can spend their whole lives battling with it. Not wanting to make this more depressing than it is, vulvodynia is tricky to treat since it is very difficult to determine the true cause, however difficult is not the same as impossible.

There is a reason why this is happening to you, and you will eventually find it. The reason, however, isn’t the important thing necessarily; it’s finding the treatment that your body will best respond to.

You will want to record your symptoms – all of them including non-vagina-related symptoms – very carefully and on an ongoing basis to determine the cycles your pain takes (if any), to see if it is hormone-related, or perhaps a system-wide sensitivity to something in your environment or diet.

Vulvodynia is a very personal journey through hell and back, but you don’t really have another choice but to continue down this pathway to find the solution for your body.

You will need some support throughout your journey, because it might not be as short as you would like, so don’t forget to ask for help from a trusted person (maybe a counsellor) who you can just cry and talk to about it with if you need to. Talking about how miserable it is won’t cure your problem, but coping with the toll this takes on your emotional, mental, physical and social wellbeing and the health of your marriage is really important. Like any chronic pain sufferer knows, life doesn’t stop because you’re hurting.

Clues and tips for you in your journey

  • You also react to skincare products – you have a system-wide sensitivity
  • Write down as much as you can about what was going on before and at the time of your first vaginal symptoms. It may offer clues – you went to a new restaurant and tried the pork, you changed jobs (environments), you switched moisturiser…
  • Your periods were altered at one stage – hormones have been affected significantly at one point for an unknown reason. Yes it could definitely be stress, but what if it was something else? Chart your cycles meticulously, including birth control you are on.
  • It ‘comes and goes’ which is useful – it means it may be cycle-related, or in fact you are doing something that triggers it. Keep a clear record of when it is coming and when it is going, including what you ate and drank, where you went that day, stressful events, etc. Rate your symptoms out of 10, and if it changes during the day, write the time and what you were doing at that time. You may find some patterns.
  • Look at everything that might cause contact dermatitis or be allergenic, not just things that touch your vulva or vagina. If you use zero products for a few days, does it help? Including make-up and skincare (you don’t need as much as you think), check your toilet paper (prints and cheap tissue are bad news), shampoo and conditioner, soaps, air fresheners, fabric softeners, car deodorisers, tomatoes with pesticides, artificial colourings or preservatives…
  • It may help to find a vulvodynia-experienced naturopath or other health practitioner who can help to guide you on your journey, including the use of herbal medicines, correcting hormonal imbalances that may exist (they know how to look for these and having a regular cycle doesn’t necessarily mean everything is ok), diet and lifestyle modifications, among many other considerations that may be more difficult to dream up by yourself. They can at least walk with you down the road and try some solutions you wouldn’t think of, and that the medical system isn’t going to offer you.
  • Try everything, and try it properly so you don’t have to try it twice, but make sure your practitioner understands vulvodynia. Acupuncture, reflexology, herbal medicine, EFT/NLP might all be useful. Visit an osteopath or chiropractor, meditate for pain management, get rid of poisons in your environment and diet, and look up what worked for everyone else and give it a try. Record your efforts carefully.
  • Remember you are not alone. Join a support group, and talk about it, and write your story so far. Misery loves company, but getting views from others about what helps and what doesn’t for them can be a great way to formulate a new plan of action. Women of all ethnic and social backgrounds get vulvodynia equally, so you are in the good company of a global community.

We here at My Vagina have your back and are sending good juju out into the universe for you!

May the vagina fairies be with you.

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

 

 

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

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