You may have heard of Vaginismus? Maybe you have a friend or partner who have told you about it? Or maybe you are one of the estimated 2 in 1000 women who have experience of this painful condition first hand?
Whilst occasional minor pain and burning sensations during sex may not mean anything more serious than your vagina needing more lube, ongoing pain and burning sensations needs investigation.
With more and more women coming forward to seek help for painful & difficult sex, I am seeing an increasing number customers with Vaginisimus.
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a sexual pain disorder where the muscles in and around the vagina tighten and go into spasm - the vagina can close up completely. It can make penetration, gynecological and pelvic exams difficult, or even impossible. Some women may need anaesthetic before a doctor can examine them.
It is important to note that Vaginismus happens involuntarily without the woman's intentional control and often without any awareness on their part. Tackling the psychological implications and the physical symptoms simultaneously is an effective way forward, but most important of all is to realise that having Vaginisimus need not mean an end of your sex life.
What Causes Vaginismus?
Many factors can cause Vaginismus, but it is not always fully understood why the condition happens. For some women, it may be caused by a traumatic past experience such as a difficult childbirth or sexual abuse; they may associate sexual activity with pain.
One tragic example was a woman I met who had been a victim of childhood abuse. Not surprisingly, her body didn't want any kind of sex - but she was determined to grit her teeth and go through with it to please her boyfriend, who was unawares of the past trauma.
Other factors causing the condition include, but are not limited to: yeast or urinary infections, menopause, hysterectomies, cancer, surgical procedures or deep-rooted beliefs that sex is "bad"...
How Many Women Suffer With Vaginismus?
According to a Vaginismus information website, the estimated number of women suffering with Vaginsmus is roughly 2 in 1000. Whilst I can't give a definite number, my estimation - based on the number of women with Vaginismus I meet - is that the actual number is a lot higher than that. Every year, I see large numbers of women who have been informally referred to Sh! by their doctor, therapist or nurse specialist - but those are only the ones who have actively looked for help. Add to this all the women who have yet to pluck up the courage to seek help, or those who feel too uncomfortable to talk about their vagina and how it feels during sex.
Cafe V is a support group for female survivors of sexual violence, and it's been estimated that 1 in 4 women have been subjected to non-consensual sex. I know first hand that many of these women go on to developing Vaginismus and may struggle to seek help.
Why is it that women feel so uncomfortable talking about their vaginas that they prefer to suffer in silence rather than seeking out help?
Part of the problem, I believe, is the number of sex-negative doctors, nurses or therapists out there. Many women are reporting back to me that health professionals are unwilling to discuss sex. Over the years, I have met women who have been told to accept their sex life is over, or that they just have to "get through it". This attitude is incredibly damaging, and just adds to the feeling of "failure" on the woman's part.
Treatment for Vaginismus
If the cause is psychological rather than physical, it can be treated using sex therapy, where you are helped to gradually overcome it by using vaginal trainers and relaxation techniques. Dilating means gradually introducing the vagina to the whole idea of penetration by inserting trainers of increasing width/length over a period of time. There is no time limit for overcoming Vaginismus - it may take weeks, months or, in some cases, years.
Whilst the time scale may be off-putting, it's important to try and remain positive. It is absolutely possible to overcome Vaginismus, in fact treatment has a great success rate.
Sex Can Still Be Great!
Having Vaginismus doesn't mean a woman's sex life has to come to a halt. Thinking in broader strokes, sex doesn't have to be penetrative to be great. This is a fact.
A woman's biggest sex organ (apart from her brain, that is) is her clitoris. The clitoris has a whopping 8000 nerve-endings, and their sole function is to offer pleasure. When under treatment for Vaginismus, it can often be a fantastic idea to take penetration off the sexual menu for a while. This will help the brain relax - and if the brain relaxes, so will the vagina. Remove the pressure of having to "perform" and provide a warm place for a penis or dildo to nestle (the penis will survive - I promise) and you may find that the warm nestling place wakes up and starts responding to sensual sensations again.
Spend time working on arousal and desire. I often hear from women with Vaginismus that their desire has hit an all time low, and they never feel in the mood for "sex" (sex, in this case, meaning penetration). Work out what turns you on, read erotica, watch something sexy and spend time playing stroking skin, playing with nipples and consider investing in a small clitoral vibe for some me-time. You may find that play time becomes fun again, which opens up new opportunities as you start to think creatively.
Make sure to always have a bottle of lube handy, as it'll make play more slip-slidey and gentle. For more information on Vaginismus, please visit the Vaginismus Awareness Site.