Women with chronic pain or discomfort around the vulva showed improved sexual function with an oral nerve pain medication used to treat pain caused by a previous herpes infection as well as fibromyalgia, according to a Rutgers study. The study, which was the first to analyze sexual function in women with vulva pain treated with Gabapentin, appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The vulva (plural vulvas or vulvae; derived from Latin for the wrapper or covering) consists of the external female sex organs. The vulva includes the mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vestibular bulbs, vulval vestibule, urinary meatus, the vaginal opening, and Bartholin's and Skene's vestibular glands. The urinary meatus is also included as it opens into the vulval vestibule.

Other features of the vulva include the pudendal cleft, sebaceous glands, the urogenital triangle (anterior part of the perineum), and pubic hair. The vulva consists of the entrance to the vagina, which leads to the uterus, and provides a double layer of protection for this by the folds of the outer and inner labia. Pelvic floor muscles support the structures of the vulva. Other muscles of the urogenital triangle also give support.

Chronic Pain Syndrome

The women in the study were diagnosed with provoked vulvodynia, a chronic pain syndrome that is characterized by symptoms such as stinging, burning, irritation or itching at the entry to the vagina. The pain usually occurs with contact, such as from tampon insertion or intercourse, which can lead to sexual dysfunction. "Previous studies have suggested Gabapentin reduces the pain of fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that includes widespread pain in various parts of the body.

Researcher theory was that reducing pelvic floor muscle pain might reduce vulvodynia pain overall and thus improve sexual function," said lead author Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The researchers found that the 230 women studied, who had an average age of 37 and, for most, had the condition for more than five years, experienced less pain and improved sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction after using the oral medication.

However, their overall sexual function remained lower than women without this pain disorder. "We found that women with greater muscle pain responded better regarding pain and improved arousal than those with less pain, which suggests that Gabapentin is considered for treatment in women who have significant muscle tightness and spasm in the pelvic region," said Bachmann.