Vaginismus is a complex condition in which vaginal penetration of any kind – during partnered sex or masturbation, during an obstetric exam, or even with the use of a tampon – is painful and oftentimes intolerable (Basson, 2005).
Fortunately, vaginismus (vaginism) is very treatable and even curable with the right interventions.
Despite the fact that approximately 16% of people with vaginas may experience vaginismus at some point in their lives (Basson, 2005), many misconceptions about the condition still persist:
Let’s investigate and debunk five common myths about vaginism here.
5 Common Misconceptions About Vaginismus
- People with vaginismus will never be able to have penetrative sex.
While vaginismus can cause considerable pain and is difficult for many patients to address or even talk about, you do not have to suffer in silence. Many different treatment options, including medications, pelvic floor physical therapy, counselling, and the use of assistive devices like dilators, exist for people suffering from pain with penetration.
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In fact, a recent clinical trial from 2017 utilized a multi-modal treatment approach, including the use of vaginal dilators like the silicone dilators made by Intimate Rose, to treat 241 women with vaginism. The authors found that nearly three-quarters of the patients in this study were able to have pain-free penetrative sex in an average of 5 weeks (Pacik & Geletta, 2017).
- Vaginismus is always triggered by some sort of traumatic event.
While there is a correlation between vaginism and a past experience of sexual trauma, this does not mean that all patients who have vaginismus were sexually abused or traumatized in their past (Ozen, et al., 2018).
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In some cases, people develop vaginismus as a result of an illness, such as an infection or cancer, or due to the hormonal changes that occur with menopause, without having experienced pain previously, and without any history of sexual trauma (FAQ | Vaginismus, 2019).
- People with vaginismus will never be able to be in a romantic relationship.
While persistent pain associated with sex can certainly place strain on a romantic relationship, many people with vaginism are able to recuperate to the point that penetrative intercourse becomes possible and even pleasurable again!
In many cases, treatment for vaginism encourages patients’ partners to become involved in the process: many providers encourage patients and their partners to continue non-penetrative intimacy in the early stages of rehabilitation, and as patients improve, their partners may even help in the gentle use of progressive vaginal dilators well before intercourse is attempted again (FAQ | Vaginismus, 2019).
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This process of cooperative care can even help some couples grow closer as they work together toward a common goal of pain-free sex.
- Doing your Kegels will help fix vaginismus.
While pelvic floor muscle contraction exercises, or “Kegels”, are commonly touted as an important tool for maintaining pelvic floor health, repeatedly squeezing and hold the pelvic floor muscles may actually be counter-productive for people with vaginism.
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Many people with vaginismus have elevated levels of tension in their pelvic floor muscles all the time, and doing a lot of Kegels can actually make this muscle tightness worse (Basson, 2005). This is why it is important to consult with your physician or pelvic floor physical therapist first before jumping into a pelvic floor muscle strengthening routine.
- Vaginismus is “all in your head”.
For far too long, many people with vaginism have been told to “just have a glass of wine and relax”, by friends, family, or even healthcare providers who assume that these patients just need help “winding down” and “getting in the mood”. However, simply willing yourself to relax (or drinking your way there!) is not the solution.
While vaginism is characterized by a psychological fear of vaginal penetration due to the pain experienced at prior attempts, there are also clear and measurable physical problems as well (Pacik & Geletta, 2017). In people with vaginismus, the muscles of the vagina go into spasm when penetration is attempted (and sometimes stay in spasm for a long time afterwards).
These muscle spasms can and should be treated: just like a muscle spasm elsewhere in the body, pelvic floor muscles in spasm can be gently stretched and relaxed through a variety of techniques to allow comfortable penetration, whether this is during sex or at the OB-GYN. This is where your pelvic floor physical therapist and the tools available from Intimate Rose can help!
- Basson, R. (2005). Women’s sexual dysfunction: revised and expanded definitions. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 172(10), 1327–1333. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.1020174
- Ozen, B., Özdemir, Y. O., & Bestepe, E. E. (2018). Childhood trauma and dissociation among women with genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Volume 14, 641–646. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s151920
- Pacik, P. T., & Geletta, S. (2017). Vaginismus Treatment: Clinical Trials Follow Up 241 Patients. Sexual Medicine, 5(2), e114–e123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2017.02.002
- FAQ | Vaginismus. (2019). Vaginismus. https://www.vaginismus.com/faq