Last updated: Jul 17, 2008

Sexual pain problems tend to go on for a lot longer than necessary because they are so commonly misdiagnosed as vaginal infections. And some experts say the situation is made worse by a more general trend toward overdiagnosing yeast infections.

Doctors frequently diagnose yeast infections without using a microscope, but an infection that looks like yeast with the naked eye could be desquamative vaginitis (a severe and rare form of vaginitis) or trichomoniasis. And doctors aren't the only ones to blame. "Seventy percent of women who treat themselves for yeast infections don't have them," says Marjorie Green, MD, director of the Mount Auburn Female Sexual Medicine Center in Cambridge, Mass., and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Another theory holds that a major cause of vulvodynia is excessive and improper use of anti-yeast medications.

If you have sexual pain, its important to consult your primary care physician or gynecologist first; if that doesn't get you anywhere after a few visits, ask for a referral to a sexual medicine specialist. Or find one yourself by contacting the National Vulvodynia Association or a university hospital in your area.

Sexual health problems can be difficult to diagnose—even for the experts. "If it was easy, I wouldn't need to spend an hour and 15 minutes [with new patients]," says Andrew Goldstein, MD, an associate professor at George Washington University. "This stuff is hard!"