Vaginismus is the involuntary spasm of the muscles around the vagina – closing the vaginal opening and preventing sexual activity, medical exams, or the insertion of tampons. Many women experience a mild degree of vaginismus at some point in their lives.
Symptoms of Vaginismus
The main symptom of vaginismus is pain when attempting sexual intercourse. The pain is often described as a tearing sensation, feeling like the penis is hitting a wall, or burning or stinging with tightness during sex. Penis insertion is difficult and for some women, impossible. Other symptoms include spasms in other muscles such as the legs or lower back and/or halted breathing during intercourse. Many women with vaginismus avoid sex to due pain.
Though the cause is not certain, many women experience vaginismus because of anxiety or fear surrounding sex. Though doctors are not certain which causes which – the anxiety or the sexual intercourse. There are varying degrees of vaginismus – some women experience vaginismus with certain partners, all partners, only with sexual intercourse but not with tampons or medical exams, etc.
Treatment of Vaginismus
Vaginismus likely won’t go away on it’s own. Typically, it actually worsens until a woman is able to overcome the involuntary muscle spasms and control them herself. But luckily, vaginismus can be treated. The cure involves learning how to control and relax the vaginal muscles, stopping involuntary tightening and becoming comfortable with insertion.
The first step of vaginismus treatment is Kegel exercises. Women are instructed to squeeze the muscle used to stop the flow of urine, hold for 2 seconds, and then relax the muscle. Do about 20 Kegels at a time, several times a day. This helps to retrain the muscle to eliminate involuntary muscle reactions, letting you control the muscle.
After several days of Kegels, the second step is to perform Kegels with something (your finger is most recommended) in the vagina. Be sure to cut your fingernails and use a lubricant or do this in the bathtub. Fingers should be gradually inserted to the first joint after the knuckle. It’s recommended to use your own fingers and not your partners, so you can control the exercise if it starts to hurt and so as not to associate your partner with pain. When you’ve worked your way up to three fingers, you may try intercourse. The exercises, as long as there is not a history of sexual trauma, are successful more than 90% of the time.
If you believe vaginismus is emotionally caused, you may want to see a sex therapist in addition to the physical exercises. Be wary of any drug or over the counter treatment you see for vaginismus – as the only real cure is to stop the muscle spasms and a drug cannot do that. If you believe the Kegel exercises aren’t working, a doctor can help with plastic dilators, slowly making you less sensitive to vaginal penetration.
For women uncomfortable with seeing a doctor, there are several good books on sexuality and vaginismus:
- Woman’s Experience of Sex by Sheila Kitzinger.
- A Woman’s Guide to Overcoming Sexual Fear and Pain by Goodwin and Agronin.