Carnegie Mellon University

Jenna Houston

Jenna HoustonMajor: Gender Studies, Art
Minor: Photography
Advisers: Lisa Tetrault and Ross Mantle

"Vulvodynia: A Documentary"

Vulvodynia, a chronic pain condition, is surprisingly common for how little it is discussed. It has a lifetime prevalence generally estimated at 16 percent of all women. Despite this, it still has not even qualified as a word in Webster’s English Dictionary, and a majority of physicians have not heard of it. Why? It is common for women with vulvodynia to not seek medical help out of embarrassment, and even when sufferers do, they are often misdiagnosed due to lack of knowledge or research.

Vulvodynia often makes sex impossible, and sitting for long periods of time unbearable. I plan to create a documentary that addresses the intimate facets of vulvodynia, both from patient and health provider viewpoints.

The piece will examine topics from the high comorbidity with depression and anxiety all the way down to its effects on clothing material choice and daily activity. Raising awareness through an interesting and complex documentary will help minimize the stigma that keeps so many women from seeking treatment and feeling comfortable in their bodies.


I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on April 1, 1996 in a quaint lake house. Soon after, I moved with my family to suburban New Jersey where I grew up, not too far from New York City. During my teenage years, I discovered a webcam aesthetic used by other young girls on Tumblr and Instagram that has influenced my video and photo work. Today I am a BHA student majoring in gender studies and art.

The conceptual nature of CMU’s art program coupled with the spread of online activism has inspired much of what I work on now – primarily experimental video work, analog photography, accessible zines and found-object installation.

I created a duo-exhibition with artist Kate Werth titled “Guaranteed Fresh” at the Frame Gallery in March 2017, deconstructing femininity in the context of sexual dysfunction and online intimacy. I am a regular contributor to Crybaby Zine and Polyester Magazine, where I illustrate sex-ed comics for marginalized populations, and my work has been in both of CMU’s literary and art magazines, Imprint and Dossier.

As an intern with Anthropologie, I created visuals for multiple stores, developing sculptural installations and working on catalog photo editorials at their home office in Philadelphia.

My current focus is on experimental filmmaking branching off into documentary, and recently, I finished a photography book, “Paradise, Home from Work,” documenting young individuals with chronic pain in their homes with funding from a CMU Undergraduate Research Grant.