Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles of the vagina tighten up whenever you try to insert something inside. People who experience vaginismus may have trouble having sexual intercourse, using tampons, or getting routine medical exams.
It's a challenging condition, but there are various ways to manage it. Many women can go on to have fulfilling sex lives after vaginismus.
Learn more about vaginismus and what you can do to ease its symptoms.
What is vaginismus?
Vaginismus happens when a woman's vaginal muscles clench up so tightly that it is impossible to insert anything inside. It usually occurs just before some type of vaginal penetration. You might experience it before sex, a doctor's appointment, or even when you try to masturbate or use a tampon.
Symptoms of vaginismus
Women who have vaginismus don't have other problems with their genitals. The only unusual symptom is the muscle spasm that makes penetration either impossible or difficult and painful.
Causes of vaginismus
Vaginismus often has an emotional component to it. Women who are worried about sex or afraid that sex will hurt can have vaginismus as a physical response to their fear. Fear of pain can also be a reason for vaginismus before doctor appointments.
Other psychological factors might include:
- Past sexual trauma or abuse
- Mental health factors
- Difficult experiences with intercourse
- Difficult experiences with pelvic exams
Because vaginismus often has psychological reasons, it can be unpredictable. Some women only experience vaginismus occasionally, such as with a particular partner. Others only have problems with sexual penetration, but they can use tampons without issue.
Who can get vaginismus?
Vaginismus can start at any point in a woman's life.
There are two categories of vaginismus:
- Primary Vaginismus: Women who have never been able to accept vaginal penetration. This is also called lifelong vaginismus.
- Secondary Vaginismus: Women who have previously had typical experience with vaginal penetration can develop vaginismus later in life.
Diagnosis for vaginismus
If you suspect you have vaginosis, speak to your doctor about it. They will ask about your symptoms and learn about your health and sexual history. They may do a basic examination to rule out any physical problems. You can ask your doctor to go slowly and explain everything to make the exam as easy as possible.
Vaginismus can be distressing and harm romantic relationships. But with time and care, women can overcome the challenges vaginismus presents. Finding a qualified professional to guide you through treatment can be very helpful. Many women can overcome vaginismus and have fulfilling sex lives afterward.
Ask your doctor about ways to recover from vaginismus. Usually, women benefit from a combination of physical and emotional therapy.
A gradual progression of exercises can help women get used to touching or penetrating the vagina. This is called desensitization. You follow a plan to get accustomed to different types of vaginal contact gradually.
- Touching: You can start by gently touching the outer parts of your vagina. Stop if it becomes painful at all. Move your hands closer to the opening of the vagina over the course of a few days.
- Digital penetration: Once you're ready, try inserting one of your fingers into your vaginal opening. Over several days, try to move your finger further inside.
- Vaginal inserts: You can get vaginal dilators to put inside your vagina once you are ready. They come in several sizes and you can use larger ones as you get used to the feeling.
Involve your romantic partner
If you have a romantic partner, you can ask them to help with your exercises if you are comfortable doing so. Open communication and managing expectations about sex will be helpful for both of you. Your partner might benefit from hearing any doctor's instructions you get, so they understand the process.
Many women find that working with a counselor or therapist is helpful. Therapy is a place where you can discuss your sexual history and safely explore any past trauma. A therapist can also help you learn to manage your fears and concerns about sex or medical exams. Finding a counselor trained in sex therapy is very helpful.
Complications of vaginismus
Vaginismus is involuntary. If it happens to you, it's not your fault or something you can stop. The condition is not dangerous to your health, but it can affect your life in other ways, including the following:
- Relationship stress: If your vaginal muscles clench when your partner touches you, you might have trouble with any sort of sexual penetration of your vagina. This can put a strain on romantic relationships. It also creates problems when a woman wishes to become pregnant.
- Undiagnosed medical problems: Women who cannot get pelvic exams are at risk of missing important diagnoses. For example, doctors can only diagnose cervical cancer through exams and tests that require vaginal penetration.
- Emotional distress: Some women have strong emotions that go along with the physical symptoms. Sometimes, the vaginismus is triggered by emotional reactions to penetration. In other cases, the vaginismus itself might be the cause of distress.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What Should I Know About Screening?"
Cleveland Clinic: "Vaginismus: Management and Treatment."
Cleveland Clinic: "Vaginismus: Outlook / Prognosis"
Indian Journal of Psychiatry: "Successful management of vaginismus: An eclectic approach."
Merck Manual: "Vaginismus."
Mt. Sinai: "Vaginismus."
National Health Service UK: "Vaginismus."
Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal: "Fear of Vaginal Penetration in the Absence of Pain as a Separate Category of Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Conceptual Overview."
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