Q1. What were your aims in making this film and why did you use this approach?
We wanted to raise awareness of issues relating to painful sex with a particular focus on vulvodynia – a condition that has a devastating effect on the lives of millions of women yet is not widely known about. Rather than opt for ‘medical speak’ and a typical ‘health awareness’ construct, we wanted to engage with popular culture and to use humour to engage with a wider audience. Our short film was made specifically for dissemination via social media and we wanted it to have an energy and immediacy that would grab viewers’s attention and then point them towards further information and support.
Our short film was inspired by Kornhaber Brown’s superb “Porn Sex vs. Real Sex: The Differences Explained With Food”, which has gone viral across social media with more than nine million views on YouTube. We choose to deliberately reference their project by juxtaposing sexual health with porn and pleasure. Kornhaber Brown are aware of our version and are supportive of our attempt to reference their piece as an issues-raiser for a sexual health issue. We feel that sexual health needs to be more widely discussed and referenced within popular culture, and within the erotic retail sector, and will continue to utilise humour and pop culture within our portfolio as a means of encouraging this.
Q2. Who made the film? What input did your sponsors have?
Our film was produced independently by Women4Real with support from a freelance production team: Sally Turner (Co-Producer and Script Writer), Sabine Tyrvainen (Co-Producer and Executive Research), Grace Gelder (Camera), Claire Wilkins (Editor), Susie Coleman (Voice-Over).
We approached sponsors, who share our values, to cover our costs. They had no input into the production of the film, but were keen to support the project as an issues-raiser for painful sex and vulvodynia: The Yes Yes Company, Natracare and Amielle Comfort, are market leaders in positively engaging with women’s sexual and intimate health, and they offer innovative products to help manage vulvodynia and painful sex.
Q3. What are the sources for the statistics used in the film?
We based our film on prominent research by Harlow BL & Stewart EG. A population-based assessment of chronic unexplained vulvar pain: have we underestimated the prevalence of vulvodynia? The conclusion of the research is that chronic unexplained vulval pain is a highly prevalent disorder that is often misdiagnosed. Life-time prevalence as stated in this study means the chance of a woman developing vulvodynia in her lifetime is 16%. This equates to 3.2 million women in the UK aged between 15-64.
Other sexual pain surveys and research conclude similar statistics. A 2012 UK Sex Census suggests that 12% of women (in England and Wales) find sex painful, that equates to around 2.2 million women.
Q4. I’m a woman who is finding sex painful, what should I do?
Painful sex (dyspareunia) can occur as a result of various factors and it is essential to get a correct diagnosis before seeking treatment. Possible causes include Vulvodynia, Vulval Dermatoses, Vaginismus, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), Interstitial Cystitis (IC), Thrush, Bacterial Vaginosis, Pudendal Neuralgia, Congenital Anomalies, Endometriosis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Pelvic Organ Prolapse, Hormonal Factors, Psychological and Relational Aspects, Cancer, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other conditions.
Treatments can vary according to need and for many women can lead to less pain, sexual recovery and improved function. Depending on the diagnosis, treatments can include pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation, pain modifying drugs, desensitisation techniques such as massage and the use of vaginal dilators, psychological or psychosexual therapy, surgical therapy, lubricants and moisturisers, and other therapies.
If you are finding sex painful and/or have symptoms of burning, soreness or pain you should visit your local sexual health clinic and ask to be tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and other related conditions including Thrush, Bacterial Vaginosis and Cystitis. If infection is ruled out as a cause of pain then you need to ask the clinic (or your GP) to refer you on to a specialist for further investigation.
Free, self-assessment measures of pain, sexual function and psychological aspects are available on our Questionnaires page.
Q5. What is vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia is a chronic pain condition that affects the vulval area in the absence of any obvious skin condition or infection.The condition is characterised by vulval burning and soreness, usually as a consequence of irritation or hypersensitivity of the nerve fibres in the vulval area. Often there is no identifiable cause, though some women have a sudden onset of symptoms following a specific event; commonly a severe attack of thrush followed by anti-thrush treatment, or after giving birth. The symptoms are often mistaken for Vaginal Thrush and topical Thrush treatments (anti-fungals) can make things worse, so it is crucial to get a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment before the condition becomes chronic and more difficult to manage.
What vulvodynia is NOT:
* It is NOT a sexually transmitted infection and cannot be passed on to a partner.
* It is NOT a form of vaginismus (involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles), though vaginismus can develop as a response to pain in the vagina or vulva.
* It is a real physical condition and does NOT have a psychological cause. Psychological distress may develop as a consequence of ongoing pain or discomfort and in this instance women (and their partners) may benefit from seeing a psychologist or psychosexual counsellor.
For comprehensive information about vulvodynia (and vulval pain), and for support in managing the condition, contact The Vulval Pain Society.
If you think you may have vulvodynia, you may wish to download a Vulval Pain Society (VPS) Pre-Clinic Vulval Pain Questionnaire which can be filled in and taken to your GP or sexual health clinic.
Q6. How can I get involved in future Women4Real projects relating to women’s health issues and sexuality?
We are working on a diverse range of projects and open to collaborating with organisations and individuals who share our aims and values – please contact us if you are involved in a project that you feel would be of interest.
We are conducting research into psychological aspects of chronic sexual pain and are looking to involve women with vulvodynia and women who do not have sexual pain issues (as control group subjects). Please join our research list here if you are interested in taking part in a future research study and we’ll be in touch. (You are under no obligation and we ensure that all personal information is kept confidential and will be anonymised).
We are also looking for women and couples willing to be interviewed about their relationships and sex lives for Women4Real’s forthcoming book project. Please contact us if you would like to be interviewed and let us know whether or not you are experiencing sexual pain issues.