Does Self-compassion Benefit Couples Coping with Vulvodynia? Associations with Psychological, Sexual, and Relationship Adjustment

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Abstract

Objectives:

Vulvodynia, a chronic vulvovaginal pain condition, has deleterious consequences for the psychological, relational, and sexual well-being of affected women and their partners. Protective factors, which can reduce these negative effects, are increasingly studied in the field of chronic pain. One of these, self-compassion, entails qualities such as kindness toward oneself, and has been associated with better adjustment in individuals with chronic pain. Because many women with vulvodynia have a negative image of themselves in the context of sexuality, self-compassion may be especially relevant for this population. This study aimed to investigate self-compassion among couples coping with vulvodynia and its associations with psychological, sexual, and relationship adjustment, as well as pain during sexual intercourse.

Methods:

Data were gathered from 48 women diagnosed with provoked vestibulodynia—a subtype of vulvodynia—and their partners, using self-report questionnaires pertaining to anxiety, depression, sexual distress, relationship satisfaction and pain intensity during sexual intercourse.

Results:

For both women and their partners, higher levels of self-compassion were associated with their own lower anxiety and depression. When partners reported higher levels of self-compassion, they were more satisfied with their relationship, and both partners and women reported lower sexual distress. No significant association was found for pain during intercourse.

Discussion:

Findings suggest that self-compassion is a promising protective factor in the experience of vulvodynia and associated distress. Interventions aimed at increasing self-compassion could enhance the efficacy of psychological treatments for these women and their partners. Further studies are needed to better understand the correlates of self-compassion among this population.

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