(WOMENSENEWS)--Women who suffer from sexual pain feel isolated and confused in a way that's like no other we've ever seen.
You might confess to your coworkers that you frequently get migraines or struggle with back pain, but it's a lot harder to excuse an absence from work by saying "My clitoris was giving me a lot of trouble" or to explain the need for a special pillow on your office chair by saying "I have this awful skin condition on my vulva."
Even if you have a steady partner and a great sex life, you--or your partner--may be uncomfortable talking about all the things that have gone wrong "down there," or you may feel overwhelmed by all the emotions that come up for each of you--shame, guilt, frustration, sadness, anger, isolation, confusion. If you are seeing someone new, trying to date or living a single life, sexual pain can make you feel so alone.
But if you have ever felt pain during or because of sex, you are not alone. It's estimated that 16 to 20 percent of all women have had sexual pain at some point in their lives--that's one in every five or six women.
Compare that with the percentage of adults (men and women combined) who have asthma (7.7 percent), cancer (8.2 percent) or heart disease (12 percent), and you'll see how shockingly common sexual pain is.
If sexual pain is more common than asthma, cancer and heart disease, why do we often feel so alone with it? Probably because, unlike asthma, cancer and heart disease, sexual pain is hard to talk about, even with a doctor. Most women reveal their condition only to a trusted few, and many women feel they can't tell anybody, not even their partners.
Most doctors--even the most enlightened gynecologists--are not experienced in treating sexual pain, and they too are often very uncomfortable discussing the subject.
Talking about sexual pain with your doctor can sometimes make you feel even worse than keeping silent. If you've tried to speak with a physician about your condition, you may already have been told--perhaps several times--that your problem is "all in your head," that it stems from your bad attitude toward sex, or that there's nothing that can be done to help you.
We're here to tell you that none of that is true. Sexual pain is almost always caused by an identifiable, verifiable medical condition; it can be treated and it is not in your head. Very few doctors understand what needs to be done, so help may be hard to find. You may already have been to several doctors and, in your search for effective treatment, you may still have to visit up to a dozen more.
Yes, it is just that difficult to find a physician who is either educated about sexual pain or willing to become so. But help is out there, treatments do exist and once you find the right person to work with, you have enormous reason for hope. Please don't give up on yourself and your sex life, because we promise you, something can be done.
A full and complete recovery is often possible. In many cases, although you may face some recurring flare-ups of your condition, you can look forward to long periods with no pain or only minimal discomfort. Even in the most difficult situations, you can experience a significant reduction in your pain and can find help for reintroducing sex as a joyous and nourishing part of your life.
We promise: Things can get better.
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Excerpted from "Healing Painful Sex: A Woman's Guide to Confronting, Diagnosing, and Treating Sexual Pain" Deborah Coady, M.D., and Nancy Fish, M.S.W., M.P.H.. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2011.
Dr. Deborah Coady is a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University's Langone Medical Center. Her medical practice, Soho Obstetrics and Gynecology, is located in New York City. Nancy Fish is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in public health. She works part-time in her office counseling patients and leads a monthly support group at Soho Obgyn. She has a private practice in Bergen County, N.J.
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