Avoiding or enduring painful sex? : A prospective study of coping and psychosexual function in vulvovaginal pain


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Publication Details

Author list: Ekdahl, Johanna

Publication year: 2018

ISSN: 1090-3801

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ejp.1227



Recurring vulvovaginal pain is common, with evident effects on affected womens lives. Little is known about how affected women cope with painful sexual activities and how coping relates to pain intensity and psychosexual functioning over time. This prospective study explored the impact of avoidance and endurance on sexual function over time. Additionally, patterns of coping were studied on an individual level to increase knowledge about coping and its relation to psychosexual functioning.


One hundred and seventeen women, 18–35 years old, with recurring vulvovaginal pain answered questionnaires at two measurement points, five months apart, assessing avoidance and endurance coping, pain intensity and psychosexual functioning. A multiple regression model explored the predictive value of avoidance and endurance on sexual function over time. Cluster analyses investigated patterns of coping and stability within the clusters. These subgroups were compared on psychosexual outcomes.


Avoidance at baseline was the only significant predictor of sexual function five months later. Distinct and stable subgroups with different patterns of coping were identified, where avoidance and endurance coping were used both separately and combined. Women who both avoided and endured had the most unfavourable outcomes in terms of psychosexual functioning.


Avoidance of sexual activities was related to reduced sexual function over time, which calls for attention and clinical interventions targeting avoidance. Additionally, women who both avoid and endure sexual activities despite pain possibly need tailored interventions, as women with this coping pattern reported the lowest levels of psychosexual functioning.


In this prospective study, avoidance of sexual activities predicted sexual function over time, when controlling for pain intensity. Subgroups of women using distinct patterns of coping were identified. Those who both avoided and endured had the lowest levels of psychosexual functioning.


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