To say or not to say: Dyadic ambivalence over emotional expression and its associations with pain, sexuality, and distress in couples coping with provoked vestibulodynia

Nayla Awada, Sophie Bergeron, Marc Steben, Victoria-Ann Hainault, Pierre McDuff
Journal of Sexual Medicine 2014, 11 (5): 1271-82

INTRODUCTION: Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is a highly prevalent and taxing female genital pain condition. Despite the intimate nature of this pain and the fact that affective factors such as anxiety have been shown to modulate its manifestations, no study has yet explored the emotional regulation of couples in which the woman suffers from PVD.

AIM: Ambivalence over emotional expression (AEE) is an emotional regulation variable that quantifies the extent to which a person is comfortable with the way she or he expresses emotions. We examined whether the dyadic AEE of couples in which the woman suffers from PVD was differentially associated with women's pain and couples' psychological, sexual, and relational functioning.

METHODS: Couples (N = 254), in which the woman suffered from PVD, completed the AEE questionnaire. A couple typology of dyadic AEE was created.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Dependent measures for both members of the couple were the global measure of sexual satisfaction scale, the Beck depression inventory II, and the revised dyadic adjustment scale. The female sexual function index and the sexual history form were used to assess the sexual function of women and men, respectively. Women also completed the pain rating index of the McGill pain questionnaire.

RESULTS: Couples, in which both partners were considered low on AEE, had the highest scores on sexual satisfaction (P = 0.02) and function (P < 0.01), the lowest depression scores (P < 0.01), and the best dyadic adjustment (P = 0.02). No difference in pain intensity was found between couples.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that, for couples in which the woman suffers from PVD, an emotional regulation that is low in ambivalence in both partners is associated with better psychological, sexual, and relational outcomes. Results indicate that emotional regulation may be important to consider in the assessment and treatment of couples coping with PVD.

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