The Top 4 Things You Never Knew About Vaginismus | Uncover the Truth
Close to one million women across the United States are unable to have penetrative sex.
Imagine going years without having sex with your partner—or ever getting to experience the unique bond formed through physical intimacy. For many females in the States and abroad, that vision is not a dream. It's an unpleasant reality due to a condition called vaginismus.
Vagi-nis-huh? That's the initial response most people have to the word "vaginismus." Generally speaking, vaginismus is a muscle reaction to vaginal penetration, such as a doctor's hand or speculum, a partner's finger or penis, a tampon, or even your own finger.
Sometimes the cause of vaginismus is connected to past trauma and preconceived notions that sex is shameful and dirty—even "evil." Sometimes the cause isn't known. You could have had the Mayberry of childhoods, and still struggle with vaginismus.
From your Google searches, the symptoms seem to line up at least: It feels like his penis is hitting a wall? Check. Pain or stinging if there's partial entry? Check. Muscles tightening in other areas of the body? Check. Unable to insert a tampon? Check. Check.
But to the detriment of thousands of women, receiving a diagnosis has its challenges. Despite the number of women who struggle with impossible penetration, some physicians still lack knowledge of the condition. Or, if there is a basic understanding, guidance can be murky.
Not to mention, if a doctor isn't able to form a proper diagnosis, many women won't even know what to call the problem.
Here are the top four things you never knew about vaginismus
1. Vaginismus can result from a combination of physical and psychological causes
Usually, at the root of vaginismus is a combination of physical or non-physical triggers that alert the body to brace and protect. For many women, vaginismus comes as a surprise; unexplained tightness, discomfort, pain, and entry problems are unexpectedly experienced during intercourse attempts. The pain results from the tightening of the muscles around the vagina. Since this occurs without the conscious intent or control of the woman, it can be confusing!
Additional sexual attempts that result in discomfort further reinforces the reflex response. When the body experiences increased pain, it reacts by bracing more on an ongoing basis, further entrenching this response and creating a vaginismus cycle of pain.
The anticipation of pain, emotional anxieties, or unhealthy sexual messages can contribute to and reinforce the symptoms of vaginismus. Frequently, but not always, there are deep-seated underlying negative feelings of anxiety associated with vaginal penetration.
2. Vaginismus doesn't mean you have a "tight vagina" that needs stretching
There's a common misconception that women with vaginismus alone need to expand their vaginal muscles. The truth is that most are already capable of stretching enough to accommodate a penis (even a large one). Vaginismus is often caused by past trauma and negative feelings associated with penetration—a limbic system reaction—the internal alarm that's been alerting the body of "danger."
The limbic system is a group of structures in your brain that deal with emotion, motivation, and memory. In our book, we liken that system to an internal alarm that, once triggered, makes intercourse (or inserting a tampon or a doctor's speculum) painful if not awkward and completely unachievable.
It typically looks something like this: A negative message is received—the limbic system reacts—an internal alarm sounds—the body answers. Although your desires might be saying one thing, your muscles could respond much differently.
3. Vaginismus is often treated by trainers (sometimes called "dilators")
We don't like the word "dilator" because the term presents a misnomer—which is a contributing factor to the belief that vaginas must be stretched. That's why we refer to the training tools as "trainers," devices that help women adjust to the feeling of penetration. They have an effective role when paired with different exposure exercises that help women learn how to calm their muscle reaction to sex. The primary function of the trainers is to de-trigger the limbic system's alarm that believes all penetration is dangerous.
Eventually, the mind and body will replace the negative messages with positive experiences and emotions.
3. Vaginismus is remarkably treatable
Vaginismus is one of the most treatable female sexual health conditions. Recovery revolves around exposure to penetration. With nearly 100% success rates from a consistent treatment regimen, nearly anyone can overcome vaginismus.
"The key to recovery is consistency. Ideally, a woman will spend anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour a day doing exercises with the trainers. Being consistent is what makes all the difference in the world," says Hope&Her CEO, Audrey Smith.
Through a series of desensitization exercises, females are taught how to correct the reaction, while exposing their bodies to penetration and normalizing the feeling of insertion.
With consistent exposure, muscle tension and trepidation begins to ease.