Vaginism or Vaginismus is a condition in which an attempt to insert something into a woman's vagina causes the muscles surrounding the vagina to tighten, and to clamp shut, making penetration painful or impossible.
Vaginism can affect sexual intercourse as well as gynecological examinations and even the use of tampons.
Vaginismus is involuntary - not intentional, and can be compared to any other reflex action where the body closes up as a reflex, like when the eye blinks if something approaches it.
It is important to note that vaginismus is not triggered deliberately or intentionally by women. It happens involuntarily without their intentional control and often without any awareness on their part. Vaginismus has a variety of causes, often in response to a combination of physical or emotional factors. The mystery of the problem can be very frustrating and distressing for both women and their partners. Despite the fact that vaginismus is involuntary and can strike any woman, many women feel intense shame from being unable to have intercourse and keep their pain private, feeling uncomfortable sharing their secret with anyone.
In vaginism, although the closing of the vagina is involuntary, it is often due to a learned response to pain, that is to say, the woman expects pain, or remembers previous painful experiences, or simply imagines that penetration will be painful, and the vaginism reflex occurs. Vaginism can be helped very successfully.
Woman with vaginismus subconsciously expect, or fear pain, and the muscles tighten up. If penetration is then attempted, it can be painful simply because the muscles are tight. What happens then is that the pain then subconsciously re-inforces the fear, tells the subconscious that it was right to fear the pain, and it can cause an even stronger response the next time.
Primary vaginismus is the name given to the condition when the woman has never been able to have sexual intercourse.
Primary vaginismus is often discovered in the teenage years, when the girl tries to use tampons, or goes for an internal examination and finds it to be extremely uncomfortable. This fear of pain then causes an anxiety which will bring with it the conditioned reflex response of closing upwhenever the woman then subsequently attempt intercourse.
Secondary vaginismus is the name given to the condition where the woman has been able to achieve penetration in the past, but develops vaginismus after some time.
Treatment for vaginismus is often easier for women with secondary vaginismus than it is for women with primary vaginismus, simply because the woman is aware that penetration without pain is possible.
Depending on the intensity, vaginismus symptoms range from minor burning sensations with tightness to total closure of the vaginal opening with impossible penetration. Common symptoms of vaginismus include:
- Burning or stinging with tightness during sex
- Difficult or impossible penetration, entry pain, uncomfortable insertion of penis
- Unconsummated marriage
- Ongoing sexual discomfort or pain following childbirth, yeast/urinary infections, STDs, hysterectomy, cancer and surgeries, rape, menopause, or other issues
- Ongoing sexual pain of unknown origin, with no apparent cause
- Difficulty inserting tampons or undergoing a pelvic/gynecological exam
- Spasms in other body muscle groups (legs, lower back, etc.) and/or halted breathing during attempts at intercourse
- Avoidance of sex due to pain and/or failure
Vaginismus is vaginal tightness causing discomfort, burning, pain, penetration problems, or complete inability to have intercourse. The vaginal tightness results from the involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor, although the woman may not be aware that this is the cause of her penetration or pain difficulties.
What can men do to help their wives and partners through vaginismus?
Men can help their partners in many ways through the process of successfully overcoming vaginismus. When the trial of vaginismus hits, men often feel helpless, thinking “What can I do about it? The problem is with her.” Vaginismus, however, is not just a woman’s problem - it is a couple’s problem. The truth is there are a number of things men can do to help. By becoming educated about the dynamics of vaginismus and being emotionally supportive of their partners, men can help their spouses to be more positive and proceed through treatment more quickly. The trial may be hard to endure, but it is not hopeless. Once the condition is diagnosed and treatment begins, success is the likely outcome.
Some of the ways men can help their partners include:
- Being supportive
- Walking the steps together
- Celebrating success
- Staying positive and patient
- Continuing to be intimate
- Join the forum
- Not becoming overly passive
Vaginismus is considered one of the most successfully treatable female sexual disorder. Many studies have shown treatment success rates approaching nearly 100%. Treatment resolution follows a manageable, step-by-step process. Sometimes it can include drugs, surgery and/or hypnosis.