What is vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a vagina in panic… It is the instantaneous, involuntary (psychosomatic) tightening of the pelvic floor muscles in anticipation of vaginal penetration. This reaction will occur if penetration is perceived as upsetting, painful (even before attempting it!), frightening or dangerous, making the body scream out loud, “NO ENTRY!” Occasionally, the condition will be caused by a physical problem such as a birth defect, or surgery.
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The psychosomatic nature of vaginismus:
There are five (5) body areas that are responsive to emotional stress, with symptoms being involuntary as well as present on/off as per stress level:
- Head — expresses stress as headaches, migraines, TMJ (jaw tightening, teeth grinding);
- Neck — expresses stress as a stiff neck, often to the point of arms going numb;
- Low back — expresses stress as low back pain, sciatica, etc.
- Digestive system — expresses stress as acidic stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, pain, etc.;
- Genitals/pelvic floor — expresses stress as difficulties relaxing enough to void, spasm pains, and vaginismus.
Of course, the natural tendency is to suspect a medical problem and, indeed, there are different potential causes for these problems. But, when medical examination and testing will not find any physical cause to justify the above complaints, emotional stress can be established, and proper intervention is a must. Psychosomatic physical expressions like these, under the influence of stress hormones such as cortisol, tend to expand over time and may eventually caused tissue breakdown because of an associated inflammatory process. In other words, stress is not a good thing for our body-mind health!
A stressed individual – male or female – may have more than one such body area ‘activated.’ And indeed, when it comes to vaginismus, it is quite common to see women who suffer from stress activation in several of those body areas, not only in her pelvic floor!
Diagnosing is quite simple: it requires identifying an inability, or a great difficulty, with one or more of the following Five Penetrations of Life SM
- Intercourse (or use of penis-size dildo)
- Gynecologic exam
In other words, a woman may have none of the penetrations, or she may be able to have some but not all of them. However, intercourse is always problematic/impossible. (Note: Although most women self-diagnose, this information is not intended in lieu of medical care)
Types of vaginismus:
Primary vaginismus: when the woman was never able to have vaginal penetration/s, or has always struggled with them. Women feel trapped, with feelings of panic and anxiety, of being “stuck with it forever”, of feeling inadequate, and “the only one who suffers from this…” Partners suffer as well, feeling frustrated, helpless, rejected and inadequate. Inaccurate sexual information and the lack of understanding of the woman’s body will worsen the crisis, often leading to alienation; it is not unusual for some women in a relationship to suggest a breakup because they feel that they cannot “do what a woman should do.”
Secondary vaginismus: when the woman lost the ability to have vaginal penetration/s. Causes include gynecologic surgery, Menopause, cancer treatment & radiation, emotional or relationship crisis, frequent painful urogenital infections, and Sexually Transmitted infections. Although these women will remember that penetrations used to be fine, they are now faced with painful/impossible vaginal penetrations, making them feel just as isolated and hopeless as those with primary vaginismus. Typically speaking, a solution is simple and takes just a few treatment sessions.
Symptoms of vaginismus:
Pain: Although vaginismus causes a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that every woman will experience in her own way, pain is the main feature and the one shared by all sufferers regardless of the severity of their condition. It is important to emphasize that the pain of vaginismus is not ‘in the woman’s head.’ Rather, it is a real physical pain from the panic reaction to penetration, the product of a Fight or Flight response. To explain this further, consider the following short lesson in neurophysiology:
- It is like hitting a brick wall;
- A ripping struggle to enter me (because I must be too small);
- Sharp pains in the vagina;
- Burning at the vaginal opening;
- Pressure in the vagina;
- Burning and pain for hours or even days afterward;
- The sensation of a needle/knife poking me;
- Pains in the lower abdomen.
With regard to gynecologic examination, women will tend to avoid them, or will suffer terribly through them. Tampon use? Women will settle for sanitary pads and come up with excuses as to why they prefer them over tampons…
Join A Private Pain, our support group for women (on Facebook)
Partner/husband: join Vaginismus – A Support Group for Men (on Facebook)
What causes vaginismus?
The following are the most common causes in order of prevalence. Note that, contrary to common belief, abuse is not at all this list!
- Fear of pain, mostly because heard from friends how painful it was for them…
- Fear of the unknown: how will it feel inside, how will I react, what if I don’t like it, etc.
- Religious inhibitions and taboos
- Fear of the vagina: being an invisible body part is a huge contributing factor to worries and fallacies
- Perceiving the vagina as fragile thus worrying about scratching, hurting, breaking something inside it (invisible, remember?), etc.
- Past experience with discomfort, i.e. infection, a rough partner, a dry & uncomfortable vagina, etc.
- Misconception about sex and sexuality
- The inability to say NO to unwanted sex
- Parental indulgence and over-protectiveness, limiting the ability to deal with life’s challenges (including vaginal use)
While the woman may not know why she has this condition, she certainly knows that she is not friendly with her vagina and cannot use it naturally, or in ‘the normal way.’
Our treatment programs for vaginismus
We offer two treatment options to account for travel and time logistics. Either program leads to the same end result: owning the vagina and using it without limitations:
- A weekly program if you live within a reasonable travel distance. The entire treatment process takes 7-10 sessions, each session lasting about 50-55 minutes and dedicated to your particular needs. Read more here.
- A concentrated 2-week program, suitable if you live too far to attend the weekly program, or if you have a very limited vacation time. If interested, make sure to read the page dedicated to this option.
- Why choose us? (Vaginismus Treatment Testimonials)
Prevalence – how common is vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a common yet secretive medical condition that continues to elude clinicians and the women who suffer from it. its prevalence is speculative because most sufferers are too embarrassed to disclose their ‘problem’ at the risk of being shamed or dismissed, opting instead to live in silence while believing that they are the ‘only one’ with the condition. You may want to visit our Statistics page for more information.
Coping with vaginismus
How does a woman, whether single or in a relationship, lesbian or heterosexual, cope with the devastation of vaginismus? Women will employ a wide range of survival tools aimed at painting as normal a picture as possible, in essence pretending that all is fine yet knowing full well that there is a painful truth behind.This includes rationalization and self-reasoning, such as “I am waiting for the right man;” keeping such an active life as to disallow any opportunity for unwanted thoughts or actions about her vaginismus; planning life so as to avoid any opportunity to encounter vaginismus, such as refusing to watch romantic movies, not dating, not walking by the tampon aisle, not going to weddings; entering compromised relationships where vaginismus becomes just another item on a long list of issues; somatization, the phenomenon of multiple and recurring physical complaints for which medical intervention is constantly being sought, yet for which a physical explanation cannot be found. More extreme coping tools include terminating a relationship, ending a marriage, substance abuse, depression, suffering in silence, and resorting to assisted reproduction or adoption.
Contact us for further information, or to schedule an appointment.