Genito-pelvic pain or penetration disorder is a fairly new disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), that is characterized by significant pain upon penetration and overall difficulty having intercourse. This pain can range in severity: some individuals are able to easily experience penetration in one given situation (say, when they’re putting in a tampon) but not another (when attempting to have sex, perhaps), and others are completely unable to experience painless vaginal penetration. In addition, this condition can come with other challenges like reduced sexual desire, fear of sex, and relationship struggles.

Diagnosing Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder

The DSM-5 sets forth diagnostic criteria, which must be met in order for a diagnosis of genito-pelvic pain or penetration disorder to be made. However, not every woman who suffers from this disorder experiences the same symptoms; therefore, the manual only requires an individual to experience one (or more) of the following:

  • Tightening of the vaginal muscles, which prohibits penetration
  • Tension, pain, or a burning sensation when penetration is attempted
  • A lack or absence of the desire to have intercourse
  • Intense phobia or fear of the penetration pain
  • Avoidance of any kind of sexual activity

What Causes Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder?

There is not yet a sure understanding of initial genetic-pelvic pain or penetration disorder development; however, a couple possible causes have been suggested. One of these proposals says it may be due to inflammation in the vaginal muscles or an injury in the vulva. And another holds traumatic past experiences responsible, such as intense pain during childbirth or a scarring first sexual experience—or, more tragically, a history with sexual abuse. Furthermore, the root of this disorder may simply be in over-sensitive nerves.

Subtypes of Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder

This condition can be classified into early-onset, late-onset, and situational subtypes:

  • Early-onset: When an individual has early-onset Genito-pelvic pain or penetration disorder, this means that their pelvic pain has persisted and continues to persist. It may have occurred naturally, whereas the first penetration attempt was painful and continued to be so.
  • Late-onset: Individuals with late-onset Genito-pelvic pain or penetration disorder experience the marked vaginal pain typically after vigorous physical activity. They may also experience it after penetration is attempted.
  • Situational: With this subtype, an individual’s pain varies by situation, as it may be triggered due to certain circumstances or particular objects. This relates back to the aforementioned example of one easily inserting a tampon but experiencing an inability to have sexual intercourse.

Is There Treatment for Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder?

This condition, like most others, can have a serious impact on one’s personal life. Women who suffer from the disorder often feel embarrassed, self-conscious, and even depressed—especially when relationships become strained because of their sexual inabilities. However, it’s important to remember that all hope is not lost—there are treatment options available to help one deal with their diagnosis depending on the cause of their pain:

  • Medication: If an individual has injured their pelvic muscles or is experiencing inflamed pelvic muscles, the Genito-pelvic pain can be treated with proper medication
  • Exercises: The continuous practice and correct execution of exercises recommended by one’s doctor may effectively treat or even cure the condition.
  • Therapy: Therapists can help individuals with genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder improve their emotional and psychological wellbeing by guiding them in conquering their fear of penetration and potential pain. They can also teach one how to properly and productively respond to their anxiety.

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