Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Australian Feminist Studies


Taylor & Francis


School of Arts and Humanities




Taylor, J., & Ridgway, A. (2024). When descriptor is diagnosis: An autoethnographic response to the medical treatment of women with vulvodynia. Australian Feminist Studies. Advance online publication.


Women with chronic vulvar pain experience symptoms that can affect their everyday functioning. These women are often diagnosed with vulvodynia, defined as vulvar pain without a medical explanation lasting at least three months. Yet while vulvodynia is presented by medical authorities as a diagnosis it is, more accurately, a descriptor of the physical condition. As such it does not have the ability to explain what causes this vulvar pain and, consequently, cannot determine an appropriate treatment pathway for all patients. As women with vulvodynia (‘V women’), we use this article to highlight the issues posed by a descriptor camouflaging as a diagnosis, including the harm it can cause. Using literature in the field and autoethnographic vignettes, our article unravels the effects of receiving this diagnosis from disappointment at what it offers women like us in explanatory terms to how it pressures us to live up to ideas of the ideal heteronormative patient (and woman). While we use our experiences to speak to how medical descriptors can be used, through diagnosis, to undermine and damage women’s bodies and voices, we also reveal possible paths for resistance through personal research, autoethnography and encouragement of the voices and agency of other ‘V women’.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.