The vaginitis monologues: women's experiences of vaginal complaints in a primary care setting

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Mar;56(5):1013-21. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00092-8.


Vaginal complaints are a common presenting problem in primary care settings. A disease model has dominated current research and treatment paradigms, with little attention to the illness or experiential dimensions of vaginal complaints. In this paper, we report data from a qualitative study of the experiences of women diagnosed with vaginitis. In semi-structured interviews with 44 women in New York City, United States, we investigated women's interpretations and explanations of their illness, their accounts of its impact on their lives, their experiences with treatment, and the role of vaginal symptoms in communicating distress and anger. We found that women's explanations of vaginal complaints differed strikingly from the current medical model described in the literature on vaginitis. Vaginal symptoms often occasioned extreme anxiety; their impact on social and sexual functioning could be severe. Finally, vaginal symptoms often functioned to express distress and gender conflict. These findings have important implications for the management of the disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Qualitative Research
  • Recurrence
  • Self Care
  • Vaginitis / ethnology
  • Vaginitis / etiology
  • Vaginitis / psychology*
  • Vaginitis / therapy
  • Women's Health