AbstractObjectivesOne in five women under the age of 30 report recurrent genital pain and pain during sexual intercourse. Female genital pain negatively affects sexual and general health, as well as dyadic function and quality of life. Although the current field of research and clinical expertise in general agree upon a biopsychosocial conceptualization, there is still a lack of theoretical models describing the psychosocial mechanisms involved in the development of genital pain. Originally developed to outline the transition from acute to chronic back pain, the fear avoidance (FA) model has lately been proposed as a possible tool in illustrating the mechanisms involved in genital pain. However, only few studies have empirically tested the components of the FA model empirically. The aim of the present study is to examine fear avoidance beliefs, pain catastrophizing, and symptoms of depression and anxiety among women reporting genital pain, and to relate these concepts to sexual satisfaction/function and the characteristics of pain.MethodsThe study was a population-based study using a postal questionnaire administered to 4052 women (age 18–35). Of these 944 (response rate: 23%) took part in the study.ResultsGenital pain of six months duration was reported by 16.1% of the women. Women with pain reported elevated levels of symptoms of anxiety, fear avoidance beliefs, pain catastrophizing and anxiety sensitivity. Symptoms of anxiety also predicted pain in the explanatory model together with vaginal tension and fungal infection. Vaginal tension has previously been described as a fear-response to painful intercourse and the results thereby seem to give further support to viewing genital pain from a fear avoidance perspective. Furthermore, fear avoidance beliefs seem to be of similar importance as lack of desire for the experience of sexual satisfaction and could also predict pain during specific activities among women with pain. The results also indicate that sexual satisfaction is related to a specific pain-related fear, rather than a heightened level of general anxiety.ConclusionsThe study had a low response rate, but still indicates that genital pain is common and is associated with several aspects of fear and avoidance. In sum, the results support the FA model by giving strong support for fear reactions (vaginal tension) and fear avoidance beliefs, and moderate support for negative affect. In the model negative affect drives pain catastrophizing.ImplicationsIt seems that the experience of genital pain among women in the general population is common and could be associated with increased levels of anxiety and fear-avoidance beliefs. However, the associations should not be understood in isolation from physiological mechanisms but seem to indicate interactions between, e.g. fungal infections, negative appraisals of pain and symptoms, lack of sexual function and satisfaction and increased pain experience. It is possible that psychological mechanisms work in the transition from acute physiological pain to chronic psychologically maintained pain in terms of secondary reactions to, e.g. repeated fungal infections by adding emotional distress, fear of pain and avoidance behaviours.
Scandinavian Journal of Pain – de Gruyter
Published: Jul 1, 2014
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