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J Sex Res. 2012;49(4):328-36. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.688227.

The medicalization of women's sexual pain.

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Department of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.


The medicalization of women's sexual problems under the overall rubric of female sexual dysfunction (FSD) has been thoroughly critiqued by feminist scholars, health practitioners, and sex therapists. However, there has been much less commentary on the medicalization of women's sexual pain-currently, a subset of an official FSD diagnosis. This article critically examines interdisciplinary understandings and ways of addressing sexual pain. It analyzes these frameworks in relation to feminist theories on medicalization, heteronormativity, and the reciprocal relationship between these two processes. We argue that many women who experience sexual pain have been eager for medicalization as a path to minimizing pain during sexual activity and reinstating normative heterosexual practices and identities. These goals have been lobbied for by patient advocacy groups and noted by professionals in the field. Although there are some clear benefits to this case for medicalization, there are also theoretical, personal, and political costs. Guided by a growing body of feminist theoretical and qualitative, empirical research on this topic, as well as the first author's personal experience of sexual pain, this article highlights some alternatives to medicalization and makes suggestions for change.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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