Struggling or enduring pain to have sex isn’t normal. Sex should be an enjoyable experience, not one to dread or fear. Vaginal pain tends to be ignored or not taken seriously. For some people, vaginal penetration can cause them real pain and anxiety. This may be vaginismus, a disorder that makes it almost impossible to have penetrative sex.
What is vaginismus?
The involuntary spasm and squeezing of vaginal muscles in response to penetration is vaginismus. This can cause pain and make it difficult for vaginal penetration to occur. There are two types of vaginismus: primary and secondary. Primary vaginismus is when vaginal penetration has never been achieved because of the tightening of the vaginal muscles. Secondary vaginismus is when penetration was once possible but is now difficult. Either way, it causes people to feel vaginal discomfort and pain. It can also affect intimate relationships as vaginal sex can become impossible. Thus, it harms a person’s mental and interpersonal well-being.
Not every case of vaginismus is the same. It doesn’t always have a definite cause. But it is linked to anxiety and trauma. One way this can occur is through feeling anxiety toward potential pain associated with penetration. As a result, this anxiety causes the vaginal muscles to spasm and close. This tightening can also result in pain, reinforcing the person’s anxiety around the penetration. Thus, vaginismus can sometimes reinforce itself, making it more difficult to overcome. The diagram below shows this.
Negative feelings unrelated to pain from penetration can trigger someone’s vaginismus; these can include fears of getting pregnant, childhood experiences, or distrust toward a partner. No matter what the cause of someone’s vaginismus, it is valid and should be treated.
If you suspect that you have vaginismus you should get diagnosed by a doctor, so you can properly begin treatment. This involves describing your symptoms and getting a pelvic exam. A pelvic exam would help rule out other health conditions that may cause pain. It is important to make sure there is no other underlying condition, so you can properly deal with your vaginal health.
Afterward, you can begin looking into treatment options. There are multiple ways to treat vaginismus. And many people combine multiple treatment options. For some people, counseling and therapy are helpful to understand their anxieties and resolve them. Another helpful option is to learn more about one’s sexual anatomy and response. These options can help people better understand why they are experiencing pain.
Furthermore, there are treatment options that involve a more physical approach. A doctor or physical therapist may introduce these and assist a patient in fulfilling them. A common option is to use vaginal dilators. This method involves using sets of cone-shaped plastic dilators of multiple sizes. They will start with a small dilator, placing it into the vagina for 10-15 minutes. This is to train the vaginal muscles to get used to the pressure of insertion. As they get more comfortable, they can increase the size of the dilators.
Additionally, many people will include their sexual partners in their treatment. This can look like doing couples therapy together or including their partners in the physical approach. This can resolve any anxieties or negative emotions towards their partners and create more intimacy.
Vaginal pain shouldn’t be ignored! Whether you think you may have vaginismus or not, seeing a doctor and getting treatment for vaginal pain is necessary. Your pain is valid. And, your right to enjoy pain-free sex is valid!