Vulvodynia is pain in your vulva that lasts longer than three months. Unlike vulvar pain that results from a condition, vulvodynia doesn’t have a clear cause. The pain can be so life-altering that it keeps you from engaging in activities you enjoy. Treatment may include medicine, physical therapy, surgery and behavioral health support.
Vulvodynia (pronounced vul-vo-DIN-ee-a) is chronic pain in your vulva, and or vagina or genitals, with no apparent cause. Vulvar and vaginal pain are common symptoms of various conditions, including infections and skin disorders. Vulvodynia is different. Vulvodynia is pain lasting three or more months that isn’t an obvious symptom of a specific condition. The pain can be so draining that it keeps you from doing activities you enjoy.
There are two types of vulvodynia. They’re classified based on where the pain originates.
Vulvodynia could be provoked and unprovoked. In provoked vulvodynia, you feel pain with touch or activity. With unprovoked vulvodynia, you feel pain without these factors.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Vulvodynia can be so stressful that it’s life-altering. With vulvodynia:
Research has linked vulvodynia to depression and anxiety.
Most people diagnosed range from ages 20 to 60, but you can get vulvodynia at any age.
Still, it’s hard to know just how common it is. Many people with vulvodynia likely don’t seek treatment. Also, it isn’t easy to diagnose vulvodynia because researchers don’t know its exact cause. Many people with vulvodynia get misdiagnosed. Or, they may get diagnosed with other conditions involving chronic pain, but the vulvodynia gets missed.
The pain associated with vulvodynia feels different to different people. When the pain starts, stops or feels most severe varies from person to person, too.
The pain in your vulva may range from mild to severe. It may feel like:
You may feel the pain in one spot, the pain may shift from one place to another, or the pain may feel spread out throughout your entire vulva.
The pain may:
Any of these activities can also intensify the vulvar pain that you’re already feeling.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes vulvodynia, but there are many potential causes, including:
Often, people with vulvodynia are also diagnosed with other common pain syndromes, including:
Data suggests that people with vulvodynia are more likely to have higher levels of stress, histories of abuse and certain behavioral health conditions, including:
Still, it’s hard to know how these conditions are associated with vulvodynia. Having a behavioral health condition may increase your likelihood of developing vulvodynia. It’s also possible that you may develop anxiety or depression because of vulvodynia’s negative impact on your life.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose vulvodynia by ruling out other conditions that may be causing your pain. They’ll ask about your medical, sexual and surgery history. They’ll also ask about your symptoms, including where you’re experiencing pain, what the pain feels like, when your vulva hurts and how badly it hurts.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose vulvodynia may include:
Vulvodynia treatment takes time. Finding the treatment or combination of treatments that bring you pain relief involves trial and error. Treatments that eventually work might not work immediately.
Treatments may include:
Limited data suggests that treatments like acupuncture and hypnosis can reduce pain associated with vulvodynia and improve sexual dysfunction, too.
Many good practices that keep your vulva and vagina healthy (vulvar care) may also help with vulvar pain.
To manage pain, you should:
Unfortunately, vulvodynia isn’t preventable.
There isn’t enough evidence to predict when (or if) your vulvodynia will ease or resolve on its own. Instead of trying a wait-and-see approach, schedule a visit with your provider to begin treatments that can help.
If you have persistent pain in your vulva, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or gynecologist. It may take some time to find the treatment that works for you. Treatment may require a team-based care approach involving a gynecologist, physical therapist, counselor, etc. The sooner you can connect to these resources, the sooner you can experience relief.
Unfortunately, vulvodynia isn’t an easy fix. The treatment that works for you will depend on what’s causing your pain. Medications, physical therapy, counseling and surgery are all potential solutions that can provide you pain relief.
If you need quick pain relief, apply a topical anesthetic to numb the area that’s hurting. Finding long-term pain relief may take some trial and error as you work with your provider to find the proper treatment or combination of treatments.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Contact your provider if you’re experiencing pain in your vulva. Your pain may be related to a specific condition, or it may be vulvodynia. Either way, there are likely treatments that can help. At first, it may take time for your provider to find the treatments that provide you relief. The treatments that work best for someone else may not work for you. Still, the sooner you begin exploring treatment options, the better off you’ll be. Don’t live with pain — or compromise your well-being — when you don’t have to.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/27/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.