Psychosocial factors associated with Pain and Sexual Function in women with Vulvodynia: A Systematic Review

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Background and objective: Vulvodynia is a prevalent chronic vulval pain condition affecting 10%–28% of women, and significantly impacting their health and quality of life. It is currently poorly understood and biomedical treatments achieve only modest benefits for pain and sexual functioning. A wider psychosocial conceptualization of this condition may improve outcomes. There is currently no coherent understanding of how psychosocial factors may contribute to outcomes in Vulvodynia. The aim of this review is to identify and systematically review psychosocial factors associated with pain and sexual outcomes and to inform a psychosocial model of Vulvodynia. Databases and data treatment: Observational/experimental studies reporting on the association between psychosocial factors and pain/sexual outcomes in adult women with Vulvodynia were eligible. Two reviewers independently conducted eligibility screening, data extraction and quality assessment. Twenty-one studies were included, all focused on women with Provoked Vestibulodynia (PVD). Most of the studies were low-to-medium quality. Results/Conclusion: A range of general/pain-related distress and avoidance processes, and sex/intimacy avoidance or engagement processes were significantly associated with pain, sexual functioning or sexual distress and sexual satisfaction, supporting the role of a psychosocial approach to PVD. Depression, anxiety, catastrophizing, pain-anxiety, pain acceptance, body-exposure anxiety, attention to sexual cues, partner hostility and solicitousness, self-efficacy and penetration cognitions are highlighted as potentially important treatment targets in PVD. Due to the limited data available, developing a psychosocial model was not possible. Directions for future research include examining the replicability and generalizability of the factors identified, exploring differences/similarities across Vulvodynia subsets and testing tailored theoretically based treatments. Significance: The systematic review highlights the role of psychosocial factors associated with pain and sexual functioning in Vulvodynia. The review findings reveal that Vulvodynia presents both similar and unique cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal features compared to other chronic pain conditions. There may be important roles for negative sexual cues, body image–related factors during intercourse, partner factors, self-efficacy beliefs and penetration cognitions, in relation to pain and sexual functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-50
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean journal of pain (London, England)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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