A New Vagina?

By Riva Preil

Illustration by Ly Ngo, courtesy of Refinery 29
Illustration by Ly Ngo, courtesy of Refinery 29

On rare occasion, I have heard patients comment (half-jokingly yet half seriously), “I wish I could just trade on my painful vagina for a new one.” Generally speaking, I do NOT promote that concept; instead, I promote pelvic floor physical therapy as a means to treat musculoskeletal related vaginal and vulvar pain.

However, on rare occasions, more aggressive measures may be indicated. For example, an individual suffering from neuroproliferative vestibulodynia (increased sensitivity and pain in the vestibule due to increased number of nerve endings, a congenital condition) may be an appropriate candidate for a vestibulectomy, a procedure that involves removal of portions of the painful tissue.

Recent stem cell research in North Carolina, as reported by this article in Refinery 29, provides promising results that may be transferable to pelvic pain. The study involves growing vaginal tissue which developed into functioning vaginal canals. The tissue was then implanted into the four study participants, all of whom presented with vaginal aplasia (incomplete development of the vagina in utero).

All participants were able to participate in intercourse after the implantation, and the two participants whose procedure involved connections to the uterus will hopefully be fertile.

This research is very exciting for the pelvic floor community, and the potential benefits that it may provide patients with chronic pelvic pain are aplenty. Could a similar procedure be developed for women with vestibulodynia?  Only time (and further research) will tell…

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