Helpful Lessons About Vaginismus

Vaginismus is a condition you may not have heard of, but which will affect up to 20% of women at some point in their life. In short it is best described as the involuntary spasm of the vaginal muscles, which prevents penetration of the vaginal opening and can occur in varying degrees. If you suffer from vaginismus it may feel like you are ‘too tight’ for comfortable penetration, or even like there is basically a brick wall there and nothing is getting in, no matter how small. Some women suffering from this condition are able to use tampons but find penetrative sex too painful or just impossible, others may not even be able to have a pap smear.

Scientists have categorised the condition into two main experiences – primary and secondary vaginismus:

  • Primary vaginismus is when a woman has never been able to experience penetration, and often she discovers this when she first tries to use tampons, or enjoy manual penetration or sexual intercourse.
  • Secondary vaginismus occurs when a woman has previously been able to experience penetration but is now experiencing difficulty or is completely unable to.

For most women, the cause seems to be at least partly psychological in nature, or at least there is a correlation and psychological therapy has been very helpful for many women, but don’t let that lead you to believe that it is therefore her choice, or something ‘wrong’ with her thinking. Much like men’s sexual dysfunction, there are many factors both internal and external which can contribute, and believe me no one suffers by choice.

Unfortunately, as with many women’s medical issues, vaginismus has a long history of misunderstanding, dismissal, misdiagnosis and attempts at treatment that can lean toward the extreme. Even many (especially, though not exclusively, male) gynaecologists today show a lack of understanding and compassion for sufferers of vaginismus, and can I just say – if your doctor doesn’t listen to you, tells you it’s ‘all in your head’, your ‘hips are too narrow for sex’, you ‘just don’t like sex’, or that ‘you will always be like this’, or dismisses the existence of vaginismus altogether — please remember you can always get a second, third or fourth opinion! It is so, so important to have a doctor who doesn’t dismiss women’s or sexual issues as unimportant or overreacting, and to have a good doctor-patient relationship.

There is still much we don’t know about vaginismus, such as which muscle in particular is responsible for the spasms which do not allow penetration, but the most common hypothesis is that it’s the PC muscle. Now all this sounds like pretty bad news, doesn’t it? But don’t despair, because what we do know is that for most women this condition can and does improve over time, and there are treatments available which have shown success.

I am not a doctor and nothing I say here is professional medical advice. I personally have suffered from secondary vaginismus at one point in my life and I just wish to share what I have found out and found to be helpful for me.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is firstly to know that you are not alone and you are not broken, or letting anyone down, that it is not your fault and that if you so desire, you can still enjoy a rich sexual and sensual life. And although treatment is aimed towards the goal of eventually being able to enjoy penetration, can I just also say that penetration is not the be-all and end-all of sex? In fact, for most women, foreplay and clitoral stimulation (not to mention mental stimulation) are by far the most enjoyable aspects of sex. I will get back to penetration in a moment, but I feel that this is an important point which can be overlooked in the search for a ‘cure’, wherein penetration is even overly lauded as everyone’s obvious sexual goal.

Now if you and your partner/s both/all have vaginas – and I apologise for the cis-centric language in this article, I am using it for expedience but can I just acknowledge that trans guys and NB people can and do also suffer from vaginismus – penetration may already be considered of lesser importance in your sex life, however if your partner has a penis, you may be worried that they are left wanting, if you are unable to have penetrative sex. Please remember, there are many, many other ways to get your guy off and for your guy to get off. Blow jobs are the most obvious option, and there is a wealth of ideas and instruction out there if you are a little unsure about your oral abilities or wish to expand your repertoir. Most guys LOVE head, in fact many prefer it to penetration, and you don’t have to be a deep-throat expert or contortionist to be able to share a mind blowing experience. There are also a wealth of guy’s sex toys that can help to keep your sex life interesting and satisfying without ever needing to have vaginal (or anal) penetration. Not to mention the absolute gold mine of women’s external toys out there too which can ensure you both have a satisfying experience!

 

Happy Couple Photo
Photo: Happy Couple

 

And one more thing before I go on, although I work in an adult store and love sex, something I also want to put out there is that some people are asexual (or ace, which is a term commonly used) and that is totally ok too. If you have no interest in sex, penetrative or otherwise, you are also not alone and not broken, and you do not have to make enjoying sex one of your life goals. If you suspect this may be you, I recommend you do some googling and find out that there is an amazing ace community out there, that ‘ace’ comes in a variety of degrees (maybe you have only a small interest in sex, but are not lacking interest altogether, perhaps you only experience sexual attraction when strong romantic feelings are involved, or have experienced attraction in the past but currently feel that you have no sexual desire and can’t see that changing anytime soon… however you feel, it may help to know that there are other out there just like you and you don’t need to feel out of place, or pressured to do something you don’t enjoy.)

OK, now I have made those points, I will also say that there are times when you may not only wish to experience penetration, but that it may be advantageous to your health to do so – eg pap smears. Don’t panic. Probably the best place to begin, after finding a doctor who listens and is on your wavelength, is to have a good chat to them about the condition.

Now to talk about some of your treatment options.

Firstly, counseling, as mentioned above, has been very helpful for many women suffering from vaginismus. Sometimes societal and moral views about women and sex can contribute and if you have been raised in an environment that views sex negatively this may contribute to your body having an involuntary negative reaction to penetration. In fact any concerns or negative experiences around sex can contribute. And the very fact of suffering from vaginismus can compound any negative associations and only make things more difficult. Begin by being gentle with yourself.

Talking honestly with your partner can help too. They may have no idea about the existence of vaginismus, may be blaming themselves, or just not understanding where you are coming from. If you are in a relationship, the more comfortable you both are, the better for both of you. Talking may help alleviate any stresses or fears you both have. Having your partner come along for a visit to your doctor may be helpful too so they can ask any questions they may have and have their mind put at ease by a professional.

Kegel exercises can also help to relax those muscles. This may seem counter-intuitive, as most people know kegel, or pelvic floor, exercises as something people do to keep their vaginas tight, not help them to loosen up! But the nature of kegel exercises – squeezing as though you were trying to ‘stop the flow’ in the middle of peeing, then releasing the squeeze – can help you to become more conscious of those muscles altogether, and you can learn to consciously relax them like you do when you release from the squeeze. Identify the feelings of being tense and relaxed in that area and you may be able to employ these skills in your sex life.

Taking control of your sexual pleasure is a great way to ease yourself along. Try something you know you enjoy, or try something new and interesting. Try reading some erotica, find out if there are fantasies that tickle your desire, try pleasuring yourself, either with the aid of toys or without. Masturbation is a wonderful thing. If you have never tried it, begin by ensuring you won’t be disturbed. Create a relaxing atmosphere – dim the lights, put on some nice music, have a relaxing bath. If you enjoy a glass of wine this can also help. Don’t get blotto. The idea is just to be a little more relaxed, and have that warm glow kind of feeling. Even if you already masturbate or enjoy foreplay with a partner, there is still a world of desires to explore, and finding things you didn’t know you liked can be a big turn on. Focus on pleasurable sensations and stay in the moment, rather than focusing on an end goal of enjoying penetration. You don’t need to attempt penetration unless you wish to and it may be a good idea not to try to begin with. Over time you may be able to insert a finger or two, or a small toy. Don’t rush things, take your time.

Take care of your body and mind. If you are tired, run down, sick, experiencing trying times or troubles in your relationships, these things can contribute to the issue.

For those experiencing long term vaginismus and for whom milder interventions have not proved helpful, some doctors treat vaginismus with Botox injections (yes, like the anti-wrinkle treatment.) Botox works by physically relaxing the muscles involved, and a dilator may be used to dilate the opening of your vagina. This is a progressive process and a mild anesthetic is involved. Now as you probably know, there are always some risks involved with Botox, so many people recommend you do not use this idea as a ‘first resort’. However if you are not having any improvement with other treatment methods this may be presented as an option and may be a solution for you.

Your doctor should be able to keep you informed with the most up-to-date information on treatments, so do try to find that doctor that is great for you and keep in contact.

I hope this has been informative and perhaps helpful. Most importantly please remember there is hope and your condition will likely improve. Be kind to yourselves, my loves, and thanks for reading!

 

About the Author: By Jade a consultant from Oh Zone Adult Lifestyle Centres

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