Vaginismus affects about 0.5% of all women. It’s a condition wherein the muscles around the vaginal opening involuntarily contract, making any sort of penetration incredibly painful.
Those suffering from vaginismus can have difficulties establishing sexual relationships. They may feel dysfunctional or like they cannot provide enough for their partner. Being accepting and supportive of these individuals can have a significant positive effect, seeing as vaginismus plays such a psychological role.
How it might affect your life
If you are living with vaginismus, penetration causes considerable pain, be it during sex, inserting a tampon or menstrual cup, or masturbating using your fingers or a sex toy.
Vaginismus is classified as primary if the woman suffering from it has always had the condition, and secondary if penetrative sex was once comfortably possible, but no longer is. It should be noted that the vaginismus has a wide range of manifestations, and thus the primary and secondary classifications can be somewhat restrictive, however the symptoms can indicate other afflictions. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, visit your doctor.
Vexing though it might be, vaginismus is not necessarily a death sentence for one’s sexuality. Problems arise when there are unfulfilled or unreciprocated expectations, or when the condition hasn’t been disclosed out of insecurity or fear. Couples may work around the issue by communicating and enjoying sexual stimulation that doesn’t include penetration, e.g. oral sex.
Most women with vaginismus have no trouble achieving orgasm by clitoral stimulation, but there are cases where the muscular response is triggered by arousal, causing interruptions and dampening the mood.
Physical symptoms of vaginismus include burning, stinging, and a sensation of tightness during sex; ongoing sexual pain with no apparent cause; ongoing sexual discomfort or pain following childbirth, yeast/urinary infections, STDs, rape, menopause, or other issues; muscle spasms and halted breathing.
Psychological symptoms include shame, insecurity, fearing and/or avoiding sex, loss of sexual interest, feeling compelled to lie to one’s partner about sex, feeling uncomfortable around topics concerning penetration of any kind.
The dangers of ignoring vaginismus
Facing an ailment can be frightening. Admitting to oneself that it exists means admitting that there may be consequences, so some people suffer for years without attempting to find out what is wrong. Dyspareunia is more likely to go untreated than other ailments because it’s so personal.
Dyspareunia is a medical term that simply means “painful intercourse”, used to describe all types of sexual pain anywhere in the genital area. Vaginismus is a kind of dyspareunia.
Relationships suffer from untreated vaginismus, especially if it’s being kept secret. Mistrust may fester, conclusions may be drawn about the lack of sex. Gritting one’s teeth and forcing penetration in spite of the pain is likely to result in injury. Vaginismus is not a problem that can be willfully ignored, and treatment takes time and patience.
The process of treating vaginismus can be emotionally taxing for someone who has had negative experiences in connection to the condition. Trauma can create psychological barriers that make it difficult to relax when faced with triggering conditions.
If left unaddressed, vaginismus is a self-perpetuating condition. Although it will not go away on its own, a healthy lifestyle change (removing stressors; understanding and accepting the condition; becoming involved with an understanding partner) can have positive effects, however informed and deliberate treatment is much more effective.
Treatment generally involves a combination of:
Psychotherapy. You may be referred to a sex therapist to address any underlying psychological issues and challenge any detrimental beliefs you might have about sex.
Relaxing and exploring your body in a safe environment (alone or with a partner), to make you comfortable with your body and your sexuality, and practicing intimacy without any overwhelming expectations.
Muscle exercises that help you regain control over your body, such as pelvic floor exercises or progressive relaxation—tensing and relaxing your muscles in a particular order.
Gradual dilation. This can be done with fingers or specialised tools, such as vaginal trainers—smooth cones of different sizes that are used in ascending order to get used to penetration at a comfortable pace. Once this has been done successfully, one can move on to sexual intercourse.
If treatment is careful and consistent, a full (and permanent) recovery is likely, no matter if the pain has persisted for months, years, or decades.
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