Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2020 Apr 30;6(1):36. doi: 10.1038/s41572-020-0164-2.


Vulvodynia is a condition that occurs in 8-10% of women of all ages and is characterized by pain at the vulva that is present during sexual and/or non-sexual situations. Diagnosis is established through careful medical history and pelvic examination, including the cotton-swab test. The onset and maintenance of vulvodynia involves a complex interplay of peripheral and central pain mechanisms, pelvic floor muscle and autonomic dysfunction, anxiety, depression and childhood maltreatment as well as cognitive-affective, behavioural and interpersonal factors. Given the absence of empirically supported treatment guidelines, a stepwise approach of pelvic floor physical therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy as well as medical management is suggested, with surgery as the last option. Vulvodynia has a negative effect on the quality of life of women and their partners, and imposes a profound personal and societal economic burden. In addition, women with vulvodynia are more likely to report other chronic pain conditions, which further alters their quality of life. Future efforts should aim to increase girls', women's and healthcare professionals' education and awareness of vulvodynia, phenotype different subgroups of women based on biopsychosocial characteristics among more diverse samples, conduct longitudinal studies and improve clinical trial designs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Vulvodynia / epidemiology
  • Vulvodynia / physiopathology
  • Vulvodynia / therapy*