Sexual function, relationship adjustment, and the relational impact of pain in male partners of women with provoked vulvar pain

Kelly B Smith, Caroline F Pukall
Journal of Sexual Medicine 2014, 11 (5): 1283-93

INTRODUCTION: Despite the impact of provoked vulvar pain on women's sexuality and the partnered sexual context in which the pain typically occurs, partners have not been included widely in research.

AIMS: To examine sexual and relationship functioning of male partners of women with provoked vulvar pain symptoms using a controlled design and to assess the impact of the pain on their relationship.

METHODS: Fifty male pain partners and 56 male controls completed questionnaires to assess sexual communication, sexual functioning/satisfaction, sexual esteem, relationship adjustment, and psychological health. Participants also completed numeric rating scales to assess the importance of sex to them and the extent to which they felt their relationship matched a satisfying relationship. To assess the relational impact of vulvar pain, pain partners were asked to indicate whether the pain had impacted their relationship, and, if yes, rated this impact.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Main outcome measures included the Dyadic Sexual Communication Scale, the International Index of Erectile Function, the Sexuality Scale, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale, the 12-Item Short-Form Health Survey, and numeric rating scales.

RESULTS: Pain partners reported significantly poorer sexual communication and erectile function and less sexual satisfaction compared with controls. They also reported significantly less affectional expression within their relationships and were more likely than controls to report a discrepancy between their relationship and their idea of a satisfying relationship. Almost 73% (n = 32/44) of pain partners reported a negative relational impact of vulvar pain. No significant differences in sexual desire, orgasmic function, sexual esteem, relationship satisfaction and consensus, psychological health, or importance of sex were found between groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Provoked vulvar pain partners appear negatively impacted with regard to some sexual and physical aspects of their relationship. As one of the few controlled studies to investigate partner functioning in the context of provoked vulvar pain, this study has future research implications and supports the involvement of partners in treatment.

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