For some women, the vaginal muscles involuntarily or
persistently contract when they attempt vaginal penetration. This is
called vaginismus. The
contractions can prevent sexual intercourse, or make it very painful.
This can happen:
- as the partner attempts penetration
- when a woman inserts a tampon
- when a woman is touched near the vaginal area
Vaginismus doesn’t interfere with sexual arousal, but it can
prevent penetration. A gentle pelvic exam typically shows no cause of the
contractions. No physical abnormalities contribute to the condition.
Sexual dysfunction can occur in both males and females and
can usually be treated. It’s not your fault, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Nevertheless, these disorders can interfere with your relationships and your quality
Experts don’t know exactly how many women suffer from
vaginismus, but the condition is considered to be uncommon.
Vaginismus is classified into two types:
- Primary vaginismus:
when vaginal penetration has never been achieved
vaginismus: when vaginal penetration was once achieved, but is no longer
possible. This may be due to factors such as gynecologic surgery 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.
Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful sexual intercourse. It's
often confused with vaginismus, but dyspareunia could be due to cysts, pelvic
inflammatory disease, or vaginal atrophy.
There’s not always a reason for vaginismus. The condition
has been linked to past sexual abuse or trauma, past painful intercourse, and
emotional factors. In some cases, no direct cause can be found.
To make a diagnosis, your doctor will do a physical exam and
ask about your medical and sexual history. These histories can help give clues
to the underlying cause of the contractions.
Options for Vaginismus
Vaginismus is a treatable disorder. Treatment usually
includes education, counseling, and exercises.
Sex Therapy & Counseling
Education typically involves learning about your anatomy and
what happens during sexual arousal and intercourse. You’ll get information
about the muscles involved in vaginismus too. This can help you understand how the
parts of the body work and how your body is responding.
Counseling may involve you alone or with your partner.
Working with a counselor who specializes in sexual disorders may be helpful.
Relaxation techniques and hypnosis may also promote relaxation and help you
feel more comfortable with intercourse.
Your doctor or counselor may recommend learning to use
vaginal dilators under the supervision of a professional.
Place the cone-shaped dilators in your vagina. The dilators will
get progressively bigger. This helps the vaginal muscles stretch and become flexible.
To increase intimacy, have your partner help you insert the dilators. After
completing the course of treatment with a set of dilators, you and your partner
can try to have intercourse again.
To perform Kegel exercises, repeatedly tighten and relax
your pelvic floor muscles, which control your vagina, rectum, and bladder.
You can locate these muscles when you’re urinating. After
you begin to urinate, stop the stream. You’re using your pelvic floor muscles
to do this. You may feel them tighten and move. These muscles move as a group,
so they all contract and relax at the same time.
Practicing these exercises helps you control when your
muscles contract and relax. Follow these steps:
- Empty your bladder.
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles, and count to
- Relax your muscles, and count to 10.
- Repeat this cycle 10 times, three times a day.
To successfully strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, don’t
engage the muscles of your abdomen, buttocks, or thighs when doing these
Sexual dysfunction can take a toll on relationships. Being
proactive and getting treatment can be crucial in saving a marriage or
It’s important to remember that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Talking with your partner about your feelings and fears about intercourse may
help you feel more relaxed. Your doctor or therapist can provide you with ways
to overcome vaginismus.
Treatment with a sex therapist may be beneficial. Using
lubrication or certain sexual positions can help make sexual intercourse more comfortable.
Experiment and find out what works for you and your partner.