HBO’s “Sex and the City” Portrays a Serious Women’s Health Condition With Inaccuracy
The Reality of Vulvodynia – Millions Suffer
(June 4, 2001) – In the season premiere of HBO’s Sex and the City which aired this past Sunday, Charlotte received a diagnosis of vulvodynia from her gynecologist after reporting symptoms of vaginal burning, itching and stinging. She asks her doctor if it is serious and is told, “No. It’s mostly just uncomfortable.” For many women in pain, this can’t be farther from the truth. Even before the season premiere of Sex and the City aired, thousands of women who saw the preview on Oprah were criticizing the show for its inaccurate portrayal.
In reality, vulvodynia is a VERY SERIOUS chronic pain condition affecting millions of women in the United States alone. Women with vulvodynia experience vulvar pain resulting in painful sexual intercourse, or an altogether inability to engage in sexual relations. Many women lose the ability to exercise or to sit for long periods of time and in the worst cases, vulvodynia patients are bedridden with chronic unrelenting pain.
“Sex and the City failed miserably at portraying the serious and complicated nature of this condition, particularly when the show’s gynecologist indicated that it’s easy to treat,” says Phyllis Mate, Executive Director of the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), an organization dedicated to educating patients and physicians about vulvar pain, and funding research on the disorder.
Charlotte is prescribed a low dose antidepressant and is told “it should get it under control,” as if it were the cure. The truth is the causes of vulvodynia are still unclear and although there are treatments that can provide some pain relief, there is no known cure. Because vulvodynia symptoms are similar to those of common vaginitis, the average gynecologist often diagnoses it incorrectly, and when the condition does not resolve, may even dismiss the problem as psychological. Women typically visit as many as seven doctors before obtaining an accurate diagnosis.
Perhaps the only accuracy Sex and the City achieves is when Charlotte’s friends answer, “Vulvo-what-ia?” when she reveals her diagnosis. This reaction is all too common among the general public and even the medical community. Although few people are aware of the condition, its strong existence is demanding attention. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded over five million dollars in federal research funding to vulvodynia research studies for the first time in history. And although inaccurate, the portrayal of the condition on one of the most popular television shows has, in the very least, brought it to the masses.
“We are not certain if Charlotte will continue to struggle with vulvodynia throughout the season,” says Mate, who thinks that’s how the story should be carried out. “But we will continue our work to educate the medical community and public, and give direction and hope to the ‘real women’ who are suffering.”
About the NVA
The National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), a non-profit organization established in 1994, began as a small local support group. Today, more than 4,000 patients and health care practitioners throughout the world belong to the organization. The NVA disseminates newsletters written by medical experts, provides support services and physician referrals, and encourages research on the disorder. Its medical advisory board is comprised of clinicians and scientists from diverse medical specialties, including gynecology, dermatology, pain management and physical therapy. For additional information, visit the NVA’s website at www.nva.org
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