How do healthcare providers evaluate women’s sexual pain?

When doctors see patients, they need specific details about the pain a person is experiencing. Where does it hurt? When does it hurt? How much does it hurt? What does the pain feel like? The answers to these questions help healthcare providers assess what might be wrong and determine treatment options.

However, pain can be tricky to describe. What is painful to one person might be mere discomfort to another.

In 2019, a Journal of Sexual Medicine study reported on three ways to measure female sexual pain in the context of provoked vestibulodynia (pain at the entrance of the vagina):

In clinical settings, doctors may use a cotton swab test. The cotton swab is gently pressed against different parts of the genitals, and the woman rates the degree of pain she feels.

If you’re experiencing sexual pain, give your doctor a call. Consider the following questions to describe the pain:


Mosthof, Mariella

“How 5 Experts Define Sexual Pain, Because It Can Be Tricky To Describe”

(February 2019)


Sorensen, James, et al.

“Evaluation and Treatment of Female Sexual Pain: A Clinical Review”

(Full-text. Published: March 27, 2018)

International Society for Sexual Medicine

“What is provoked vestibulodynia?”

The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Wammen Rathenborg, Frederikke Louise, MSc, et al.

“What Do Different Measures of Pain Tell Us? A Comparison in Sexually Active Women With Provoked Vestibulodynia”

(Full-text. Published online: January 14, 2019)

National Vulvodynia Association


Psychology Today

“Genito-Pelvic Pain or Penetration Disorder (Sexual Pain Disorder)”

(Last reviewed: February 21, 2019)

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