Psychological Treatment for Vaginal Pain: Does Etiology Matter? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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Classification of vaginal pain within medical or psychiatric diagnostic systems draws mainly on the presumed presence or absence (respectively) of underlying medical etiology. A focus on the experience of pain, rather than etiology, emphasizes common ground in the aims of treatment to improve pain and sexual, emotional, and cognitive experience. Thus, exploring how vaginal pain conditions with varying etiology respond to psychological treatment could cast light on the extent to which they are the same or distinct.


To examine the combined and relative efficacy of psychological treatments for vaginal pain conditions.


A systematic search of EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and CINAHL was undertaken. Eleven randomized controlled trials were entered into a meta-analysis, and standardized mean differences and odds ratios were calculated. Effect sizes for individual psychological trial arms were also calculated.

Main Outcome Measures.

Main outcome measures were pain and sexual function.


Equivalent effects were found for psychological and medical treatments. Effect sizes for psychological treatment arms were comparable across vaginal pain conditions.


Effectiveness was equivalent regardless of presumed medical or psychiatric etiology, indicating that presumed etiology may not be helpful in selecting treatment. Research recommendations and clinical implications are discussed. Flanagan E, Herron KA, O'Driscoll C, and Williams AC de C. Psychological treatment for vaginal pain: Does etiology matter? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sex Med 2015;12:3–16.

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