By Hannah Richardson

This post is a summary of: Santerre-Baillargeon, M., Rosen, N.O., Steben, M., Pâquet, M., Macabena Perez, R., & Bergeron, S. (2017). Does Self-Compassion Benefit Couples Coping with Vulvodynia? Associations with Psychological, Sexual and Relationship Adjustment. The Clinical Journal of Pain. DOI: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000579

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is a chronic vulvovaginal pain condition that is characterized by burning pain at vulvuar vestibule (entrance of the vagina) when pressure is applied. This pain often happens during sexual intercourse and intimacy, but can also occur in a non-sexual situation such as tampon insertion [1].

As you can imagine, experiencing this type of pain can greatly impact women. Women with PVD have reported more sexual distress, less sexual satisfaction and poorer sexual functioning compared to women without PVD [2-5], increased psychological distress [6], higher anxiety and depression [7-8], and altered self-image [9].

Partners of women with PVD can also be affected and often report increased psychological distress, lower sexual satisfaction, and poorer sexual functioning [10-12].

Researchers that study chronic pain have begun to examine potential protective factors that may help people cope with and reduce their pain. One of these factors, called self-compassion refers to a quality that promotes a kindness and understanding towards oneself when they experience difficult situations such as pain or failure.

Self-compassion has been shown to promote better mental health [13] and decrease levels of distress, anxiety and depression among clinical and non-clinical samples [14]. Additionally, self-compassion has been linked to greater pain acceptance [15]. However, the majority of studies on self-compassion as not considered its impact in a relational context [16].

Specifically, no studies to date have examined self-compassion among a chronic pain population such as partnered couples. The present study tested whether having a caring or kind attitude (e.g. self-compassion) towards oneself would be linked with a decrease in psychological, sexual, and relational distress among women with PVD and their partners.

What was the goal of the study?

To see how self-compassion among women with PVD and their partners was linked to psychological distress (anxiety, depression), sexual distress, relationship satisfaction, and levels of pain.

What did they do?

48 women diagnosed with PVD and their partners completed a structured interview that collected information on their demographics, relationship history, gynecological history, pain history, and current pain/sexual activity. Couples also completed separate online surveys that measured self-compassion and psychological distress (anxiety, depression), sexual distress, relationship satisfaction, and levels of pain.

What did they find?

  • Women’s and partners’ higher self-compassion was linked to their own lower reports of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
  • When partners had higher self-compassion, they reported higher relationship satisfaction, and they and women reported lower sexual distress.
  • Both women and partners’ higher levels of self-compassion was not associated with women’s reports of pain during intercourse

What do these findings mean?

Broadly, this research tells us that self-compassion is a promising protective factor in the experience of vulvodynia and that it has an impact on decreasing distress that commonly accompanies this chronic pain condition.

These particular findings emphasize the importance of positive emotional factors such as self-compassion in the adjustment and distress associated with chronic pain. Self-compassion has been associated with less negative coping strategies such as catastrophizing, rumination, and avoidance responses. These results suggest that self-compassion could reduce the likelihood of women and their partners engaging in negative coping responses to pain [17].

Among partners, being compassionate toward themselves could be linked to less negative self-related emotions (e.g. guilty feelings from causing the woman pain), and may allow them to be more aware of pleasuring the woman sexually and emotionally despite the pain.

Women may feel that having a more self-compassionate partner may allow them to feel more accepted and validated in their pain which could lead to increased sexual adjustment and satisfaction.

Interventions targeted at helping women with PVD and their partners should aim to increase and promote positive protective factors such as self-compassion in therapeutic or clinical settings. Self-compassion may allow women with PVD to have decreased feelings of inadequacy, isolation and shame that are commonly associated with vulvodynia. Additionally, interventions may allow partners to better cope with the negative consequences of this pain.

References

[1] Bergeron S, Binik YM, Khalifé S, et al. Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome: reliability of diagnosis and evaluation of current diagnostic criteria. Obstet Gynecol 2001; 98: 45-51.

[2] Bergeron S, Likes WM, Steben M. Psychosexual aspects of vulvovaginal pain. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol 2014; 28: 991-999.

[3] Gates EA, Galask RP. Psychological and sexual functioning in women with vulvar vestibulitis. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 2001; 22: 221-228.

[4] Bergeron S, Corsini-Munt S, Aerts L, et al. Female Sexual Pain Disorders: a Review of the Literature on Etiology and Treatment. Curr Sex Health Rep 2015; 7: 1-11.

[5,6] Reed BD, Advincula AP, Fonde KR, et al. Sexual activities and attitudes of women with vulvar dysesthesia. Obstet Gynecol 2003; 102: 325-331.

[7] Khandker M, Brady SS, Vitonis AF, et al. The influence of depression and anxiety on risk of adult onset vulvodynia. J Womens Health 2011; 20: 1445-1451.

[8] Nylanderlundqvist E, Bergdahl J. Vulvar vestibulitis: Evidence of depression and state anxiety in patients and partners. Acta Derm Venereol 2003; 83: 369-373.

[9] Pazmany E, Bergeron S, Van Oudenhove L, et al. Aspects of sexual self-schema in premenopausal women with dyspareunia: associations with pain, sexual function, and sexual distress. J Sex Med 2013; 10: 225

[10] Jodoin M, Bergeron S, Khalifé S, et al. Male partners of women with provoked vestibulodynia: attributions for pain and their implications for dyadic adjustment, sexual satisfaction, and psychological distress. J Sex Med 2008; 5: 2862-2870.

[11] Pazmany E, Bergeron S, Verhaeghe J, et al. Sexual Communication, Dyadic Adjustment, and Psychosexual Well‐Being in Premenopausal Women with Self‐Reported Dyspareunia and Their Partners: A Controlled Study. J Sex Med 2014; 11: 1786-1797.

[12] Smith KB, Pukall CF. Sexual function, relationship adjustment, and the relational impact of pain in male partners of women with provoked vulvar pain. J Sex Med 2014; 11: 1283-1293

[13] Barnard LK, Curry JF. Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Rev Gen Psychol 2011; 15: 289-303.

[14] MacBeth A, Gumley A. Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clin Psychol Rev 2012; 32: 545-552.

[15] Costa J, Pinto-Gouveia J. Acceptance of pain, self‐compassion and psychopathology: Using the Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire to identify patients’ subgroups. Clin Psychol Psychother 2011; 18: 292-302.

[16] Sirois FM, Molnar DS, Hirsch JK. Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping in the Context of Chronic Illness. Self Identity 2015; 14: 334-347.

[17] Leary MR, Tate EB, Adams CE, et al. Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self- relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. J Pers Soc Psychol 2007; 92: 887- 904.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Pin It on Pinterest