What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is when an involuntary spasm occurs in the pelvic floor muscles when something is about to be inserted into the vagina. This could be a tampon, a menstrual cup, a speculum during a gynaecological exam, or penetrative sex.
The muscle affected is called the pubococcygeus and this controls activities such as bowel movements, childbirth, orgasms, and intercourse.There are four types of vaginismus and the symptoms, pain levels, and sensations can vary between individuals. It may be that the vagina clenches fully to stop something from entering, or the vagina tightens making it difficult to have penetrative sex or to insert a tampon. It is possible for a woman to temporarily stop breathing whilst experiencing the pain.
In this post we are going to take a closer look at the varying types of vaginismus, how it affects women, and what can be done about it.
For a woman to be diagnosed with primary vaginismus the pain must occur during her first penetrative vaginal sexual experience.
Secondary vaginismus can begin at any time in a woman’s life and usually happens after having had penetrative sex for some time. It is thought that childbirth, trauma, medical procedures, infections, medical conditions (such as Vulvodynia or endometriosis), relationship difficulties, and menopause may play a role in triggering vaginismus.
Sex is still a very big taboo for women and when it comes to sexual dysfunction is unfortunately much worse. Since when I lost my virginity, I experienced pain during intercourse. A pain so intense it did not allow penetration to happen. I was crying and I was very frustrated with my inability to do something so normal. When I told people about my problem, I received the same advice - "just relax!". I could not relax and I felt worse and worse with myself. It was years of suffering alone, not daring to ask for help and ignoring the problem before seeking treatment.
Global vaginismus has always been present in the woman’s life and any object can trigger the muscle spasms, such as having a smear test, going to insert a tampon or a menstrual cup, or having penetrative sex.
The pain only occurs at certain times for women, for example, during penetrative sex but not when using a tampon.
What are the causes of Vaginismus
The causes of vaginismus can be both physical and emotional. It is possible for a woman to not know the underlining reason.
- An abusive partner
- Bad first sexual experience
- Experienced an unpleasant medical examination
- A belief that sex is shameful or wrong
- Childhood abuse
- Fear of pregnancy
- Body shaming
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of/ no vaginal lubrication
- Inadequate foreplay
- Medication side effects
- Pelvic surgery
Having vaginismus can cause frustration, distress, and a lot of emotional upset.
It can cause relationship problems as couples may struggle to communicate their thoughts and feelings towards a possible lack of intimacy.
Experiencing a repetitive physical response to an experience such as a traumatic birth, rape, or an unpleasant medical procedure, can be emotionally draining.
When to Seek Medical Advice
If you are concerned about having vaginismus then it’s important that you speak to your doctor. Some of the common symptoms are
- Find it difficult inserting a tampon or menstrual cup
- Struggle to have penetrative sex
- Burning or stinging pain during sex
Treatment for vaginismus is focused on managing feelings around penetration or inserting an object such as a tampon. Treatments include
- Psychosexual therapy is a talking therapy to help the individual understand and change their perception of their body.
- Relaxation treatments such as meditation, mindfulness, and gentle touching exercises of the vaginal muscles, to help the muscles relax.
- Sensate Focus provides exercises to help the woman relax during sex.
- Pelvic floor muscles can be used to help gain control of vaginal muscles.
- Vaginal trainers can be used to help a woman get used to an object being inside of her vagina. A vaginal trainer is a smooth tampon-shaped object that comes in varying sizes. The idea is for the woman to try inserting a smaller trainer into her vagina and build up to a bigger size. This process is known as ‘progressive desensitisation’.
Vaginismus is an involuntary muscle spasm of the pelvic floor muscles in response to fear. The trigger and cause of the fear resulting in pain can vary from individual to individual.
The good news is that there is help and support available to enable women to overcome vaginismus and past traumas or experiences.
If you have any concerns about vaginismus then it is advised that you seek medical advice.
All our blog post is written by Rebekah Louise, a fantastic writer who is super passionate women's health.