In medical terms, Char's lady business was experiencing vulvodynia. Essentially, it's a terribly painful vaginal condition that affects anywhere between 200,000 and six million women in the U.S. each year. The reason for the wide range is that many women don’t even know they have it—or their doc isn’t ballsy enough to acknowledge its realness, says Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn, a women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California.
Vulvodynia is a chronic pain syndrome of the vagina that comes without warning and can last long periods of time. It's accompanied by symptoms of burning, stinging, itching, throbbing, swelling, and soreness that's often described as agonizing, says Maria Sophocles, M.D., ob-gyn, the medical director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton in New Jersey.
The sad truth is that there’s no known cause of vulvodynia and, until recently, doctors didn’t even recognize it as a real pain syndrome, says Ross. “Diagnosis can be very difficult, since the vagina may appear completely normal upon examination,” says Ross “Usually we administer a cotton-swab test where we apply pressure to various areas of the vagina and ask the patient to evaluate the severity of the pain associated with each touch.”
While there is no cure for vulvodynia, there are treatments available. And, like in Charlotte’s scenario, some doctors do prescribe a low-dose antidepressant.
“It’s not clear why antidepressants work for some women with this condition, but they do,” says Ross. The doses of antidepressants to treat vulvodynia are much lower than those used for an actual depressive disorder, she says. That means women treating their vulvodynia with that prescription should avoid side effects like weight gain and a reduced libido. Unfortunately, even with a script, the road to a happier vag can take months, she says.
Your best bet to ward off a depressed vagina is sex—and lots of it. “Sex promotes healthy collagen and elastin cells and maintains the flow of blood to the area,” says Sophocles.
If you're not getting much action these days, that’s where masturbation comes in handy (plus a million other reasons). “Masturbation and sex toys maintain the vagina’s structure—especially the opening, which can slowly close and shorten as we age.
Bottom line: Yep, your hoo-ha can be seriously depressed, but having as much sex as possible (especially with yourself) will keep your yoni happy as a clam.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.