Women’s Subjective Experiences of Living with Vulvodynia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Ethnography

Rebekah Shallcross*, Joanne M. Dickson, David Nunns, Catharine Mackenzie, Gundi Kiemle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
414 Downloads (Pure)


Vulvodynia, the experience of an idiopathic pain in the form of burning, soreness, or throbbing in the vulval area, affects around 4–16% of the population. The current review used systematic search strategies and meta-ethnography as a means of identifying, analyzing, and synthesizing the existing literature pertaining to women’s subjective experiences of living with vulvodynia. Four key concepts were identified: (1) Social Constructions: Sex, Women, and Femininity: Women experienced negative consequences of social narratives around womanhood, sexuality, and femininity, including the prioritization of penetrative sex, the belief that it is the role of women to provide sex for men, and media portrayals of sex as easy and natural. (2) Seeking Help: Women experienced the healthcare system as dismissive, sometimes being prescribed treatments that exacerbated the experience of pain. (3) Psychological and Relational Impact of Vulvodynia: Women experienced feeling shame and guilt, which in turn led to the experience of psychological distress, low mood, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Moreover, women reported feeling silenced which in turn affected their heterosexual relationships and their peer relationships by feeling social isolated. (4) A Way Forward: Women found changing narratives, as well as group and individual multidisciplinary approaches, helpful in managing vulvodynia. The findings of the review conclude that interventions at the individual level, as well as interventions aimed at equipping women to challenge social narratives, may be helpful for the psychological well-being of women with vulvodynia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-595
Number of pages19
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number3
Early online date13 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Meta-ethnography
  • Vulval/Vulvar pain
  • Vulvodynia


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