Early dyspareunia experience in young women: Confusion, consequences, and help-seeking barriers

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Journal of Sexual Medicine





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Introduction.  Recurrent painful intercourse or dyspareunia is a highly prevalent health problem associated with impairments in sexual function and psychosocial well-being. Despite its particularly high prevalence in young women, little is known about how young women experience the onset of dyspareunia and how they attempt to manage or address the problem.

Aims.  To explore the subjective experience of early dyspareunia symptoms in young women so as to model its cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and help-seeking trajectory.

Methods.  Using a qualitative methodology broadly based on grounded theory, 14 young women reporting recurrent entry and/or deep pain with intercourse underwent in-depth semistructured interviews asking them to describe their personal experience with dyspareunia symptoms.

Main Outcome Measures.  The Female Sexual Function Index was used to screen women with symptoms of dyspareunia. The main outcome measure was a semistructured interview inquiring about the cognitions and emotions associated with the experience of pain with intercourse, causal attributions for the pain, interference with personal, relational, and sexual well-being, and help-seeking decisions.

Results.  The model/theory that emerged suggested a sequence of experiences that began with confusion about the onset of pain and a relatively fruitless search for causal attributions. Attempts to self-manage the pain via a number of cognitive and behavioral strategies provided little relief. Deleterious consequences on sexual function, well-being, and relationships ensued, and women reported a number of barriers to help-seeking.

Conclusion.  The findings from this study suggest that a lack of public health information about dyspareunia and the reluctance of health care providers to inquire about sexual problems may contribute to many young women delaying treatment for a serious sexual health problem with potentially negative biopsychosocial outcomes.


Dyspareunia; Help-seeking behavior; Pain--Psychological aspects; Sexual health; Treatment Barriers; Young women--Sexual behavior


Community-Based Research | Counseling Psychology | Health Psychology | Medicine and Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychology




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