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Genito pelvic pain penetration disorder

Written by Emma McGeorge

There’s a new diagnostic name on the street for pelvic pain, and it’s a long one. Genito pelvic pain/penetration disorder (GPPPD) is a combination of painful sex (dyspareunia) and involuntary vaginal muscle spasms (vaginismus).

Used to describe persistent or recurrent difficulties when it comes to sexual dysfunction, it’s diagnosed by extreme pain or ongoing discomfort, usually while trying to have sex. It causes emotional distress and a (totally understandable!) loss of interest in sex and reduced sexual desire.

What are the symptoms of GPPPD?

Everyone’s experience of genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder is unique. And it often occurs among women in early adulthood or during peri- and postmenopause.

Symptoms can come about at the first experience of vaginal intercourse, or can (annoyingly!) begin after you’ve been enjoying pain-free sexual intercourse for some time.

Like many sexual pain disorders, most people with GPPPD have complex, multifaceted symptoms and it’s often a tough challenge for professionals to assess and treat. 

If you’re reading this you’re probably wondering what the systems of genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder are:

  • Difficulties with vaginal penetration during sex
  • Pelvic or vulva pain during sex or at other attempts to penetrate
  • Apprehension about pain before, during or after sex
  • Consciously or unconsciously tensing or tightening the pelvic muscles during sex‍

How is genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder different from other conditions like dyspareunia or vaginismus?

Many practice professionals believe there are distinct differences between dyspareunia and vaginismus and they shouldn’t be lumped together under one umbrella term as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Revision 5 (or DSM-5) now does with “genito-pelvic penetration/pain disorder”.  

However, in order to be diagnosed with GPPPD, you need to have experienced persistent symptoms for six months or more.

You also need to rule out other physiological and psychological health issues like relationship problems, effects of medication and other medical conditions, including mental disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Due to this, by the time you get a diagnosis you’ve probably been suffering a while. But don’t let it get you down, there is a treatment plan out there waiting for you!‍

What causes it?

While experts haven’t yet worked out how genito pelvic pain penetration disorder develops, there are a few things they think are the main causes, including:

  • Medical reasons, such as an infection or condition in the genito pelvic region
  • Cultural or religious beliefs around sex and sexuality
  • Relationship issues around sex and sexual intercourse
  • A history of sexual abuse or poor body image‍

What can I do about it?

‍The manta of “No pain, no gain” does not apply to this situation and even if you can "handle it," your body remembers. It’s important to be aware that “pushing through pain” during attempted vaginal penetration may create more problems. 

You don’t have to live with painful sex and you can get help. If you think something might be going janky with your pelvic floor your first step is to find an awesome pelvic health specialist who’ll help you get to the bottom of your issues (like a physiotherapist or gynecologist).

Because it’s such a complex area, many people with genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder actually find that they need a combination of treatments, from a variety of experts, to see improvement in their condition. Think of it as building a team of awesome people who have your health as their top priority. Keep asking for help until you find the right team to give you the support and treatment options you need.‍

What does a specialist appointment look like for genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder?

Your specialist will give you a thorough check over and assess where your body, including your pelvic floor muscles. During your assessment you’ll get an internal and external examination to check the function of your pelvic floor muscles. Your specialist will check how you contract and relax the muscles and will feel for any tight spots or trigger points. They might also check how the bones and muscles of your ribs, lower back, hips and sacroiliac joints are working, as it’s all connected.

Have you been suggested vaginal training or dilation therapy?

Vaginal trainers help your body to relax and work to desensitize your vulvar and vaginal area. This can make it easier (and less painful) to have sex and use tampons. Dilation therapy, on the other hand, helps  to gently stretch your vaginal walls and tissue to reduce sexual pain upon insertion. 

We can’t rave enough about the silicone dilators from Intimate Rose for both vaginal training and dilation. After trying many (many) dilators, these are our number one choice for genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder. They’re also perfect for dyspareunia, vaginismus, menopause, post-radiation therapy and more.

Does your vagina feel dry or fragile?

‍One of the biggest causes of pain or discomfort during sex is not enough lubrication. Dry vaginal walls cause friction, and friction isn’t fun for anyone.

Your body produces its own natural lubrication when you’re turned on. But how wet you get isn’t just about desire. Things like medication, age, breastfeeding and hormonal fluctuations can all have an impact on the amount of natural lubrication your body produces. While extended foreplay can help (and is loads of fun) if you’re worried about how wet you are it can be a real buzz kill. 

Here’s where a good lubrication can help. Not all lubricants are not created equal. We have lubricants and vaginal moisturizers from Intimate Rose, for genito pelvic pain and penetration disorder to get things feeling better again. They’re natural, nurturing and made from the highest quality ingredients to help you feel good about using a tampon, toy, your partner’s penis, or vaginal dilators.

Provide comfort to your pelvic area

Our TendHer reusable perineal cooling pads are super soft (like super soft) and perfect for cooling hypersensitive and delicate areas of a woman’s body. Comfortable, cooling and discreet. No-one will know you are wearing it— it can be our little secret. Bonus! You can also use TendHer pads warm to help relieve muscle spasms or to relax the area prior to vaginal training, dilation or trigger point therapy.

Gain control and begin to enjoy sex again

Using an intimate wearable that allows you to control the depth of penetration during sex can help you manage, or even eliminate, pain. The Ohnut is designed to feel just like skin. It’s so comfortable (like a gentle hug) you and your partner will barely notice it’s there. And because you no longer have to worry about whether penetration will hurt, the Ohnut allows both you and your partner to focus on what matters most, connection, enjoyment and fun. Want to know what it feels like for the guy? Check out the video via our shop.

While a diagnosis of genito pelvic pain penetration disorder is one that no one wants to recieve, don’t lose heart! With the right team of medical professionals and tools, you’ll be moving in the right direction towards healing, in no time!