Aunt Vadge: vulvodynia and clitorodynia at the beach – can I do anything?

Aunt Vadge, 

I have had vulvodynia at the opening of my vagina for years, and clitorodynia (sharp pain when touched) at a tiny spot on the tip of my clitoris for as many years. Yesterday I was woken up by a sharp pain in my clitoris, unlike my usual pain. It happened a few more times that day, and I probably made it worse by nervously checking it in the bathroom several times. I am at the beach, so it is possible that it is irritated by sand or a tight bathing suit. Also, I have a hormonal IUD, so my menstrual cycle is abnormal, if this could possibly affect the issue.

Do you have any advice for what the issue is, and if it will resolve itself?

Yours,
In Pain
Age: 22
Country/Area: USA

Dear In Pain,

Vulvodynia and clitorodynia are unfortunately incredibly hard to not only diagnose, but to treat or manage, as you well know. Because we aren’t sure what is triggering the pain, it makes treating – even relieving the pain temporarily – very challenging. Your pain sounds very uncomfortable, and such a nuisance at the beach!

Without more information, I have no idea what you have tried for your vulvodynia. It is my understanding that sometimes hormonal changes can trigger vulvodynia, and that removing the offending hormonal birth control has worked for some people. There are plenty of complaints about the hormonal IUD, but as that relates specifically to vulvodynia or clitorodynia, I couldn’t say. Hormonal birth control definitely comes with its own set of compromises for your body to tolerate, and some tolerate it better than others. That is a decision for you to make on your own, because the benefits of choosing if you get pregnant are profound. There are also other options, if you were on the hunt for a way to try to figure out where your vulvodynia is coming from.

My first love for vulvodynia patients is an experienced pelvic physiotherapist, assuming you have someone you see regularly for help. I have no idea when your pain will resolve, or what the outcome will be – that is too hard to answer, as everyone is so individual. You are right though – you may have triggered off some pain with tight bathing suits and sand, so make sure to give your vulva plenty of airtime (go commando) and do a really thorough clean under your clitoral hood as you are able. A grain of sand can wreak havoc!

I’m not sure exactly where you are (you may be on holiday and out of your usual city or town), so the only thing I can suggest you try for some temporary relief for free at home is reflexology. Now, don’t be scared off by the amount of effort you will need to put in. Learning this sweet craft takes just time and some care and your thumbs. Once you know the tricks, you may find you are able to make a dent in your pain, at home, for free, anytime anywhere. No guarantees, but reflexology is pretty much instant in its effect, while the effect may be temporary. This is very useful for pain. I use it for headaches and doing magic tricks on people’s pain at parties (true story). It’s my one true love, and while I know I’ve been doing it for a while, it is so easy and so free!

Here’s what you can do.

Check out the reflexology map, and find the vagina point. Now, this is where things get finicky and your sensations are going to be the best feedback you have. It’s good to do this when you have the pain (though hurting yourself when you have pain is really hard – if you can get someone to help you do this, someone who is able to give it the time and attention it requires, do – it’s more fun with someone else anyway). If not, practice when you are able.

The reason you want to do it when you have the pain is because when you push the right point, the pain will go away. Then, you’ll lift your thumb off, and it will come back. Nobody knows why this happens, but when you get the right spot, it does. What this means is that if you push this spot enough, over your session, it can completely relieve the pain – for a while. How long the pain goes away for will depend a lot on what’s causing the pain (which we don’t know) and how much work you do on the pressure point.

You can find these maps that specifically point out the vagina points here and here – they are hard to find, and the vagina is not commonly seen on reflexology maps, but follow the pelvis and surrounding organs – fallopian tubes, ovaries, etc., and look for the same that appear for men – prostate, testicles, etc. It’s around that area and you’ll need to feel around carefully – firmly, but gently, to find the tender spot that is the telltale sign of a pressure point that needs attention. Remember that almost all reflexology charts are different, and it is an art (a pretty old one, with hand-drawn maps) and the science part has yet to be explained. That’s why we give you a couple of charts – you want to try all the points you have available to you!

There will be one or two points, maybe one for your vulva/vestibule, and one for your clitoris. You will need to find these points on yourself, using the maps.

To get the right point, you’ll need to find the right angle, and if you are not used to touching other people’s bodies, being gentle but firm on your own can be a challenge. Don’t let this put you off. Finding these points could prove to be a helpful trick to get you through your beach holiday and a tool to allow you to manage your vulvodynia until the true cause can be found.

The points you want to get to are on the inside of the foot, near to the inside ankle bone, so the charts you will be looking at are the foot from the side, but from the inside where you can see the big toe. To get to this area, put your foot over the opposite knee, as you might sit sometimes, but with your ankle on your opposite thigh (not your foot). You want the foot free. Hold your foot in both hands, with the map zoomed in so you can see exactly where it is pointing to.

When you think you are about in the right area, gently roll your thumb from side to side across the target area. Just take your time, go slow, and feel it out. Check the whole area, up under bones, inside crevices, gentle but firm – you don’t want to miss a secret spot because you were going too soft. If you hit a hot spot – a very tender spot – you have maybe found a pressure point, the one(s) you are looking for.

Once you find the tender area, push for a longer time, and as firmly as you can bear. You will know soon enough if it is doing anything, because your vulvar/clitoral pain will diminish, even a tiny bit. If you manage to make it diminish, you are in the right area. Finding the spot that alleviates it – for the minute – is key.

I know this is hard to figure out how to do, but just try, and give it plenty of time. Learning your pressure points is like learning maths – you either have the spot or you don’t, so keep hunting until you find it. It’s there.

There is no guarantee of results, but if you are stuck at the beach with zero options around for more advanced care, then it’s a great option to try. You can sit on the beach and do it, and get whoever you are with involved if you are able. Look up videos and maps and tutorials – there is plenty around, so find one that suits your learning style.

And, write to me in the return email if you get stuck. Always here to help!

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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