In my work with PVD over the years, I have observed many women with signs of this type of association, or who had close relatives like mothers and sisters affected by similar illnesses that are not related to sexual function.

These conditions can include:

- Fibromyalgia - long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues, which is also commonly linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety.

- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - severe, continued tiredness that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other medical conditions.

- Interstitial cystitis, which brings severe urgency and painful urination.

Although the symptoms of PVD seem clear, diagnosis can be confused with these other, more pervasive diseases. In other words, the tell-tale symptoms of PVD might be masked by the symptoms of some other disease, and not be recognized. Again, it’s crucial to be very attentive when gathering the history of how the symptoms first appeared and what happened next. Experienced caregivers are careful to make sure they detect signs of additional conditions such as PVD as early as possible, so they can offer better treatment.

When I conducted a survey on Fibromyalgia in collaboration with my colleagues at the Siena Medical School, we found that about one-third of women with Fibromyalgia had clear symptoms of PVD that had not been identified.

The women themselves had considered pain during sex as simply another aspect of Fibromyalgia instead of a symptom of a separate illness requiring different treatment. Initially, the aim of our project was to better understand chronic pain syndromes, but by the end of the investigation we came to realize that, thanks to our findings, a number of women had an accurate diagnosis that included PVD, and they could now access effective treatment, bringing a huge improvement in the quality of their lives.

 

Problems Beyond the Physical

 

Any condition that interferes with sexual function, whether on the part of the woman or the man, brings with it risks of painful penetration and loss of interest in sex. Sexual dysfunction also brings frustration, difficulty in becoming aroused, and, of course, romantic discord.

 

PVD makes sexual penetration difficult or impossibly painful, and couples have to create new ways to keep each other sexually satisfied – at least until treatment is completed. Most couples are initially reluctant to keep their sex life active when it’s no longer something that just happens spontaneously, or if it can’t involve “going all the way”. Some adapt successfully, and explore lovemaking without penetration, while others feel something crucial is missing and give up.

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