Vaginismus: what is it and how to avoid it?
Vaginismus is a painful medical condition in which the vaginal muscles contract, causing pain during sex and gynaecological examinations.
A woman suffering from vaginismus has her vaginal muscles involuntarily or persistently contract when vaginal penetration is attempted. Contractions can prevent sexual intercourse or make it very painful, but the woman has no control over it.
It is indeed an annoying condition, which can affect women not only from birth but also in any moment of their life. Awareness of vaginismus may not happen until vaginal penetration is attempted, and the reasons for the condition are unknown – experts don’t even know how many women have vaginismus, but the condition is considered to be uncommon. A gentle pelvic exam typically shows no cause of the contractions, and no physical abnormalities contribute to the condition.
If you are suffering from vaginismus, remember that it’s not your fault, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nevertheless, these disorders can interfere with your relationships and your quality of life.
It is therefore very important to be informed about this condition in order to avoid it or cure it.
Vaginismus is classified into two types, which are primary vaginismus (when vaginal penetration has never been achieved) and secondary vaginismus (when vaginal penetration was once achieved, but is no longer possible, potentially due to factors such as gynecologic surgery, trauma, or radiation).
Some women develop vaginismus after menopause. When estrogen levels drop, a lack of vaginal lubrication and elasticity makes intercourse painful, stressful, or impossible. This can lead to vaginismus in some women.
Primary vaginismus is commonly discovered among teenage girls and women in their early twenties, as this is when many girls and young women first attempt to use tampons, have penetrative sex, or undergo a Pap smear. A few of the main factors that may contribute to primary vaginismus include chronic pain conditions and harm-avoidance behaviour, negative emotional reaction towards sexual stimulation, e.g. disgust both at a deliberate level and also at a more implicit level, strict conservative moral education, which also can elicit negative emotions.
Secondary vaginismus may be due to physical causes such as a yeast infection or trauma during childbirth, while in some cases it may be due to psychological causes, or to a combination of causes. The treatment for secondary vaginismus is the same as for primary vaginismus, although, in these cases, previous experience with successful penetration can assist in a more rapid resolution of the condition.
Peri-menopausal and menopausal vaginismus, often due to a drying of the vulvar and vaginal tissues as a result of reduced estrogen, may occur as a result of “micro-tears” first causing sexual pain then leading to vaginismus.
Vaginismus has been linked to past sexual abuse or trauma, past painful intercourse or emotional factors, even if in some cases no direct cause can be found.
Involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles is the primary symptom of vaginismus, but the severity of the condition varies between women. If you have vaginismus, you can’t manage or stop the contractions of your vaginal muscles. Vaginismus can have additional symptoms, including fear of vaginal penetration and decreased sexual desire related to penetration.
To make a diagnosis, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your medical and sexual history.
The most important thing to understand is that vaginismus is a treatable disorder. Treatment usually includes education, counseling, and exercises. Treatment usually focuses on managing your feelings around penetration and exercises to gradually get you used to penetration.
Psychosexual therapy is a type of talking therapy that aims to help you understand and change your feelings about your body and sex. Mindfulness, breathing and gentle touching exercises can also help you learn to relax the vaginal muscles.
Other forms of treatment include pelvic floor exercises, such as squeezing and releasing exercises to gain control of the vaginal muscles, and the use of vaginal trainers, tampon-shaped objects in different sizes to help you gradually get used to having something put into your vagina.
Treatment is initially done under the guidance of specialised therapists, but after a while you will be expected to practice some of the exercises at home. Treatment usually works in the majority of cases, and you can expect to see the results and improvements in a matter of weeks.
Prevention is always better than cure – so it’s a good idea to do some exercises that help you keep your vaginal muscles in shape. All womens should do some Kegel exercises at home to learn to control and relax the muscles around their vagina.
An example to do Kegel exercises is to squeeze the same muscles you use to stop the flow when you’re peeing: squeeze the muscles, hold them for 2 to 10 seconds, relax the muscles. Repeat this for 20 times, as many times a day as you want to – this is the best way to keep vaginismus away.