Vaginismus: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Pictured: Calexotics She-ology Wearable Dilator
Content warning: This article contains information about sexual trauma. It has been included to inform our audience about trauma as a potential cause of vaginismus as a condition.
Vaginismus is a medical condition that can significantly impact individuals' lives, causing pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse or vaginal penetration. It affects a significant number of people and can have both physical and psychological consequences.
In this article, we'll explore what vaginismus is, its prevalence, potential causes, symptoms, prevention strategies, available treatments and when it's essential to seek medical advice.
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a condition characterised by involuntary muscle contractions of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vaginal opening. These contractions make it difficult, and often painful, for individuals to engage in vaginal penetration, including sexual intercourse, using tampons or undergoing medical examinations.
Vaginismus is surprisingly common. While exact statistics can vary, it's estimated that around 5-17% of individuals experience some form of vaginismus during their lifetime[^1]. The condition can manifest in a range of severity levels, from mild discomfort to extreme pain.
The causes of vaginismus can be complex and can vary from person to person.
Some potential factors include:
- Physical Factors: Infections, menopause, childbirth, trauma or surgeries in the genital area can contribute to vaginismus.
- Psychological Factors: Negative sexual experiences, anxiety surrounding the appearance of the vagina, fear of pain or past sexual trauma can lead to muscle tension and involuntary contractions.
- Cultural and Religious Factors: Societal taboos and misinformation around sex can cause anxiety and contribute to the development of vaginismus.
The symptoms of vaginismus can manifest in different ways, including:
- Pain or Discomfort: Painful vaginal penetration, often described as a burning or stinging sensation.
- Involuntary Muscle Contractions: Tightening of the pelvic floor muscles, making penetration difficult or impossible.
- Anxiety and Fear: Feelings of fear or anxiety surrounding sexual activity or attempts at vaginal penetration.
While it might not be possible to prevent all cases of vaginismus, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk or manage the condition:
- Open Communication: Maintain open communication with partners about sexual desires, boundaries and any concerns.
- Education: Get to know your body, understand sexual health and healthy sexual practices.
- Relaxation Techniques: Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, to reduce muscle tension.
Vaginismus is a treatable condition, and various approaches can help individuals manage and overcome it:
- Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy: A trained physiotherapist can guide individuals through exercises to relax and strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Therapists can help individuals address the psychological aspects of vaginismus, such as anxiety and fear.
- Desensitisation: Gradual exposure to vaginal penetration using dilators of increasing sizes, like the ones shown below, can help the body adapt and reduce discomfort. Always start with the smallest size dilator with some water-based lubricant and gradually work your way up to wider diameters over time.
When to Seek Medical Advice
If you experience persistent pain or discomfort during attempts at vaginal penetration, it's essential to seek medical advice. A healthcare professional, such as a gynaecologist or a sex therapist, can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend suitable treatments based on your individual circumstances.
See our article How to Talk to a Doctor about Vaginal Concerns for some guidance on preparing for an appointment.
Leclair CM, Abbey A. (2018). Vaginismus: A review of the literature on the classification/diagnosis, etiology, and treatment. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 6(1), 33-49. [DOI: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2017.04.001]
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.