How Young does Vulvo-Vaginal Pain Begin? Prevalence and Characteristics of Dyspareunia in Adolescents


Tina Landry, BA, PhD, Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Montreal, Canada, H3C 3P8. Tel: (514) 987-3000 (2102); Fax: (514) 343-2285; E-mail:


Introduction.  Dyspareunia remains under-investigated despite recent population-based studies indicating that its prevalence ranges from 12% to 21% in adult women. Although clinical data suggest that dyspareunia can begin during adolescence, a large-scale epidemiological study has yet to be conducted with this population.

Aims.  To determine the prevalence and characteristics of dyspareunia in a large-scale sample of adolescents, in addition to the characteristics of vulvo-vaginal insertion pain in nonsexual contexts.

Methods.  With written informed consent, data were obtained from 1,425 girls (12–19-year-olds), from seven metropolitan high schools during regular school hours using a self-report questionnaire.

Main Outcome Measures.  Dyspareunia prevalence was evaluated by asking sexually active participants whether or not they regularly (at least 75% of the time) experienced pain during intercourse. Pain duration, context of onset, location, intensity, and pain during tampon insertion and pelvic exams were evaluated.

Results.  Results revealed that 20% of sexually active girls (N = 251) reported having regular pain during intercourse for at least 6 months or more. A primary form of pain was reported by 67% of adolescents and significantly more girls with chronic dyspareunia identified the vaginal opening (39%; inline image) as being their most painful site compared with internal pain sites (18–29%; inline image) (P = 0.042). Chronic dyspareunia cases reported significantly more pain during first and usual tampon insertion (P = 0.003; P = 0.009) than pain-free controls, while no difference was found between groups regarding pelvic exams (P = 0.086). Experiencing severe pain at first tampon insertion was linked to a fourfold risk of reporting chronic dyspareunia (P = 0.001).

Conclusions.  Results mirror prevalence estimates found in population-based studies with adult women and suggest that chronic dyspareunia is a significant sexual health problem in adolescent girls, with pain extending beyond intercourse to nonsexual contexts. Landry T, and Bergeron S. How young does vulvo-vaginal pain begin? Prevalence and characteristics of dyspareunia in adolescents. J Sex Med **;**:**–**.