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A disorder that causes women to have vaginal pain during sex can put a damper on intimacy, not to mention putting guys in an awkward spot of how to help. New research suggests men who show more support and sympathy toward their partners may actually be increasing both her pain and her sexual satisfaction.
The seemingly contradictory findings may point toward new ways that men can approach supporting their partners suffering from a condition called provoked vestibulodynia (PVD), researchers from the University of Montreal say.
"It seems to put male partners in a predicament," said study author Natalie Rosen, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal.
Women with PVD experience chronic, intense vaginal pain and because of it, they may avoid having sex, Rosen said. When a male partner is overly sympathetic and caring, he may encourage the woman's avoidance and may also begin to avoid sex, which may reinforce her anxiety or negative thoughts about the pain, she said.
However, a guy's support may, at the same time, make a woman feel more connected to him, and therefore increase her sexual pleasure when they do engage in sexual activities .
The pain and the pleasure come from different places in her body -- the aching that women with PVD feel is focused in the area around the entrance to the vagina, but most women experience sexual pleasure and orgasms as a result of clitoral stimulation.
So what's a guy to do?
"It may be best if they are supportive but not avoidant of sexual activity altogether," Rosen told MyHealthNewsDaily. A man who is supportive will increase the feelings of emotional intimacy in a relationship, which can intensify a woman's sexual satisfaction. By continuing to have sex , he won't inadvertently reinforce her negative thoughts.
A significant amount of scientific evidence has shown that pain of all types increases when certain behaviors, such as the avoidance of an activity, are reinforced, Rosen said.
Still, it can be hard for a man to tell when his efforts to be understanding and supportive cross the line and begin to reinforce a woman's anxious feelings about sex, Rosen said.
"Every woman is different and every couple is different," she said.
Both the man and the woman may be completely unaware that his sympathy is intensifying her pain – the man feels he is being supportive, and the woman feels understood and cared for .
Some couples may find that a woman's pain is lessened when the focus is shifted away from vaginal intercourse and toward other sexual activities, such as oral or manual stimulation, Rosen said.
Rosen's findings were based on a survey of 191 heterosexual couples affected by PVD.
About 12 percent of U.S. women have PVD, according to a 2001 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The condition is chronic and recurrent, and is triggered mainly through sexual contact, but can also happen during tampon insertion or gynecological examination.
The findings were published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in August. Sex Steps Up Brain Growth, Study Suggests