Health

Sexual health seminar put focus ‘down there’… on the vulva

“Taking Care of Down There” event examined sexual health issues — medical and social

Kate Rancourt addresses auxiliary symptoms of PVD.
Kate Rancourt addresses auxiliary symptoms of provoked vestibulodynia (PVD).   Shelby Bona

When speaking about women’s sexual health, the vagina and the uterus are usually the stars of the show.

But Tuesday night, they took a backseat to the vulva, the external area of the female body that is more often discussed in terms of aesthetics rather than function.

The “Taking Care of Down There: Let’s Talk about Vulvar Health” event was designed to address all aspects of vulvar health — the social, the sexual, the physical and the psychological.

Researchers Kate Rancourt and Dr. Natalie Rosen after a successful event.
Researchers Kate Rancourt and Dr. Natalie Rosen after a successful event.   Shelby Bona

Conceived of by Dr. Natalie Rosen and PhD candidate Kate Rancourt from the Couples and Sexual Health Research Laboratory (CASHLab) at Dalhousie University, the event featured experts in various areas of women’s health, from gynaecology to physiotherapy.

 

 

Creating a dialogue

Rancourt, a psychologist and researcher with CASHLab, said that “embarrassment and shame” of pain during sex are two reasons women avoid seeking treatment.

Rancourt’s research focuses on sexual communication between partners and how provoked vestibulodynia — a chronic condition that causes women to experience pain when pressure is applied to the area where the urethra and vaginal opening are located — affects not just the individual but also their relationship.

“Partners might have fears about hurting the woman, or they might worry as well that sex is always going to be this way,” she said.

Rancourt’s research shows the condition can have lasting psychological effects on women, such as a lack of interest in sex and avoiding affection from partners.

Dr. Pamela Brown was integral to revolutionizing sexual health in Halifax.
Dr. Pamela Brown was integral to revolutionizing sexual health in Halifax.   Shelby Bona

Pamela Brown is a pioneer of sexual health in Halifax, as a founding member of the Family Planning Association of Nova Scotia, which is now called the Halifax Sexual Health Centre.

She believes an increase in the level of conversation surrounding sexual health is the greatest change since she worked in the field.

“This is something about which people have a language. ‘This is my experience,’ ‘this is what happens for me’ and ‘this is what I’m worried about’,” she said. “I think it’s lovely that people have a place to do that.”

Alicia LaPierre agrees. She is a psychology student at Saint Mary’s University and said “the forum allowed anybody to ask what they really wanted; it was very non-judgmental.”

LaPierre also hopes to enter the field of relationship and sexual research and appreciated the discussion of opposing sexual drives between partners.

“[The notion] that you can find other ways to integrate the intimacy into [the relationship], that gave me something else to think about, a different way to think about [sexual expression with your partner],” she said.

Good vibrations

Shannon Pringle says using car metaphors works surprisingly well when discussing sex.

“You wouldn’t own a car and not look under the hood. You need to look under the hood of your clitoris too,” said Pringle, who has worked at Venus Envy for 11 years.

This is just one way the conversation surrounding sexual health is being normalized.

She says one reason women may have pain and apprehension during sex is because they haven’t explored their own desires and what gives them pleasure.

She produced an array of sex toys during her presentation. Pringle says experimentation is the key to discovering what produces pleasure.

Some members of the audience had a little difficulty coming to terms with that in the beginning.

“Being a man, it’s a little intimidating at first, but once the presentations get going, you get a little more relaxed,” said Brent Ritchie, one of a few men who attended.

He says he came to the event because his girlfriend had asked him, but didn’t walk away from the experience empty-handed.

“The most enlightening thing was the sex toys… it’s easier to get involved [in that dialogue] when [Shannon Pringle] was laughing and making everyone more comfortable,” he said.

The forum allowed for a lot of inter-personal discussion amongst attendees and presenters.
The forum allowed for a lot of interpersonal discussion amongst attendees and presenters.   Shelby Bona

Related Websites

Couples and Sexual Health Research Laboratory