Clinic gains funding to treat condition that causes painful sex in women

Recent funding will allow UBC's Sexual Medicine Program to treat more women who suffer from provoked vestibulodynia (PVD).

PVD is a common cause of pain during penetrative sex that affects around 15 per cent of premenopausal women. PVD is widely acknowledged as a chronic pain condition. Various treatment options are available, including pain-relieving medications, physiotherapy and cognitive therapy.

“Over the years, these treatments have changed as we have realized medical approaches for pain — giving medications — don’t work,” said Rosemary Basson, director of the Sexual Medicine Program at UBC. “Simple band-aid solutions like local anesthetics can help in the short term, but none of these are very clinically helpful in the longer term.”

“The focus of treatment these days is cognitive methods of treating pain,” said Basson.

Recently, the Sexual Medicine Program has received a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research, which will allow for increased staffing and a greater capacity to treat more women with PVD.  The aim is to compare and contrast two similar treatment approaches for PVD — traditional cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT).

For several years, the Sexual Medicine Program has run treatment programs where women with a diagnosis of PVD are treated in small groups of 6-12. The women, with doctor’s referrals, attend eight weekly group sessions where they could discuss and learn more about their condition as well as practice methods of managing it.

“To acquire that skill [mindfulness], one needs to practice being mindful,” said Basson. “Mindfulness practices are really like meditation — they’re nothing to do with sex — they’re practices whereby one learns to be in the moment.”

Basson said that both methods have been shown to be beneficial and effective, but it is unclear as of now which is better suited for individual women based on factors such as different types of personalities and mental health issues.