At 14 years of age, I first noticed vulvar pain when trying to insert a tampon. I assumed it was typical discomfort, but two years later my boyfriend and I decided to have sex and the pain was so excruciating we had to stop. I sat in a tub of lukewarm water, trying to figure it out. We tried at another time, but it was impossible. I decided to stop trying to have sex. For awhile I felt like my life was normal, but then I started to have pain sitting. I finally told my mom who took me to a gynecologist. I described my symptoms. The gynecologist took some cultures and determined I had a yeast infection. I felt better after seven days of Monistat, but three weeks later the pain returned in full force. This time the gynecologist prescribed a strong antibiotic instead. It didn’t work and my doctor said she couldn’t help me. I was terrified.
For the next year, I continued to have yeast infections and used Monistat for temporary relief. Then it was my senior year and it seemed like almost everyone was having sex. My boyfriend and I tried again, without success. I went to college and started googling “vaginal pain.” Dozens of articles popped up, but I focused on one that described sexual dysfunction caused by vulvodynia.
That’s what I had… vulvodynia! I brought the information to my mom and we discovered the National Vulvodynia Association. I asked for their doctor referral list and found a specialist, but it took months to get an appointment. Instead, I found another vulvodynia specialist, Dr. Gloria Bachmann of Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, in New Jersey. During my Q-tip test, we determined that my pain was in the vestibule. Treatment began with topical creams because I was hesitant to take oral medication. I tried lidocaine 5%, then compounded gabapentin and clobetasol propionate. One or two provided short-term relief. At that point, I agreed to try oral medications, first an antibiotic, then an antidepressant, oral gabapentin, and amitriptyline. The first three weren’t helpful, but I felt pain relief with amitriptyline. I could not remain on amitriptyline, however, because it made me feel like a zombie.
Having tried so many treatments that were not helpful, or caused unacceptable side effects, surgery seemed to be my final option. After reading Dr. Andrew Goldstein’s book, When Sex Hurts, I decided to consult him about the prospect of surgery. After a long telephone conversation, and then a physical examination, Dr. Goldstein told me that a vestibulectomy was my best option. I was scared and wide awake the night before my appointment. The next morning I went to a small surgical center and was hooked up to an I.V. Minutes later I was asleep, and when I woke up, the surgery was over. To be specific, I had a vestibulectomy plus a hymenectomy. After two months of mostly bed rest, the tissue healed. At the post-op examination, Dr. Goldstein did another Q-tip test, starting at the outside of the vestibule. No pain! Then the Q-tip was inserted where the pain had been intense. Nothing…it was incredible! Afterwards, he gave me glass dilators ranging in size from small to large. I was instructed to insert a dilator every day to stretch the vaginal muscles and scar tissue. It was painful at first, but I used them consistently, and after a few weeks, my vagina felt normal again. I was finally able to consummate my relationship with my boyfriend!
Fast forward to today, I have a pain-free normal life and I am able to have sex whenever I choose. The disadvantage of the surgery, losing 25 percent of my vaginal lubrication, was well worth the sacrifice. I simply apply a considerable amount of lubricant before sex. Now I speak about my experience freely to give encouragement to other adolescent girls who are suffering from this condition and don’t know where to turn. I want them to know they are not alone and that they should be hopeful.