Could Your Skinny Jeans Cause Chronic Vulva Pain?

What causes vulvodynia — and how to treat it.

Woman sitting in living room wearing skinny jeans while son plays underfoot

Sorry, skinny fans: A study has linked tight pants to vulvodynia, a condition that causes chronic pain in a woman’s external genital area.

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But preventing vulvodynia probably isn’t as simple as swapping your jeggings for boyfriend jeans, says Ob/Gyn Jessica Strasburg, MD. She discusses how to prevent and treat this painful condition.

Understanding vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is chronic pain that affects the vulva for more than three months. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes this condition. Vulvodynia pain:

  • Often feels like burning or stinging, though you may experience aching or throbbing.
  • Might come and go at random, or flare up only in response to touch.
  • Can be debilitating.

The study looked at women between ages 18 and 40, with and without vulvodynia. The researchers asked about wardrobe and grooming habits and found:

  • The condition was twice as common among those who wore tight pants more than four times a week.
  • Women who removed hair in the area above the genitals were more likely to have vulvodynia than those whose grooming habits stopped at the bikini line.

The vulvodynia-inflammation link

The reasons for the findings aren’t clear, says Dr. Strasburg. Painted-on pants might increase the risk of infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs) or yeast infections. Hair removal, meanwhile, might cause irritation. Both infections and irritation can spark the onset of vulvodynia, she explains. “Anything that causes inflammation can trigger it.”

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Still, vulvodynia often goes hand-in-hand with other problems, such as problems with the pelvic floor muscles or certain genetic disorders, she points out. For most women with vulvodynia, it’s unlikely that fashion or waxing habits are solely to blame, she adds. “Tight clothing and hair removal are more likely to trigger symptoms in someone who has vulvodynia rather than to cause it.”

Vulvodynia treatment

If you have signs of vulvodynia, an accurate diagnosis is your first priority, Dr. Strasburg says. “Your gynecologist can screen for it, but it can be helpful to see a urogynecologist or a gynecologist who specializes in problems of the vulva,” she says.

A variety of treatments can relieve vulvodynia pain, including:

  • Oral and topical medications.
  • Botox injections to ease muscles in the pelvic floor.
  • Alternative treatments like acupuncture.
  • Treatments to address co-occurring disorders, such as physical therapy for pelvic floor disorders.

Different treatments work for different women, so it may take some time and patience to hit on a solution. And if none of those options take the pain away, talk to your doctor about surgery to remove the vestibule, a thin strip of tissue in the vulva where the painful nerves are often located.

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Keep your vulva happy

To relieve symptoms of vulvodynia — or potentially reduce the risk of developing it in the first place — adopt these healthy downtown habits:

  • Change out of wet clothing quickly.
  • Wash your lady parts with mild soap and water.
  • Skip the douche and sidestep cleansing products with perfumes and dyes.
  • Use gentle detergent and avoid dryer sheets when you wash your knickers.
  • Consider limiting shaving and waxing, especially if you find that hair removal increases sensitivity.

Ultimately, Dr. Strasburg says, the best thing you can do for your nether region is … very little. “The less we do down there, the better.” And your beloved skinnies? Fret not — unless they’re causing you pain, you can keep ‘em.

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