Now Available:
Online Treatment Programs for Vaginismus and Painful Sex
Navigating life with vaginismus

Navigating Life with Vaginismus

Vaginismus, as well as dyspareunia or painful intercourse, extend their impact beyond physical discomfort. They permeate daily life, affecting routine tasks and intimate relationships, necessitating comprehensive understanding, diligent management, and often, professional intervention.

A 2016 study by Karadeniz Technical University in Turkey titled “Sociodemographic features, depression and anxiety in women with lifelong vaginismus” revealed that women with this condition often live with heightened levels of sadness and anxiety and may lack adequate knowledge about sexual health.

By deepening our understanding of vaginismus, we can have more understanding for those living with vaginismus and devise effective strategies to mitigate its impacts, enhancing their quality of life.

How Can Vaginismus Be Managed in Daily Life?

Managing vaginismus in daily life can be a multifaceted process that involves understanding the condition, seeking professional help, practicing self-care, and communicating effectively with others. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  • Understand the Condition: The first step in managing vaginismus is understanding what it is and how it affects you. This involves learning about the physical aspects of the condition, such as the involuntary muscle contractions at the vaginal opening, as well as the emotional and psychological impacts. Knowledge of vaginismus can empower you to take control of your condition and seek the right kind of help.
  • Seek Professional Help: Medical professionals, such as gynecologists, physical therapists, psychotherapists, and sex therapists can provide valuable information, support, and intervention for managing vaginismus.  Solutions may include dilation therapy on your own or under the guidance of a physical therapist, cognitive-behavioral therapy that can help change the negative thought patterns associated with vaginismus, individual psychotherapy for stress management, and medication/s to address the underlying anxiety, 
  • Practice Self-Care: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can all contribute to overall well-being, which can, in turn, help manage the symptoms of vaginismus. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can also help reduce muscle tension and promote mental well-being.
  • Communicate Effectively: Open communication with partners, family, and friends about your condition can help them understand what you’re going through and provide you with the support you need. If you’re comfortable doing so, discussing your condition with your employer or teachers can help them provide accommodations that make your daily life easier.
  • Explore Treatment Options: Various vaginismus treatment options are available for vaginismus, and it’s important to explore these by a thorough Internet search, discussion with your  healthcare provider, or even enlist friends and family to search for resources.

Managing and living with vaginismus is a personal journey that can look different for everyone. What works for one women may not work for another, and finding a management plan that suits your needs and circumstances is important.

How Does Vaginismus Impact Quality of Life?

Vaginismus significantly impacts the quality of life of those who live with it. It can lower the overall quality of life and health, affecting various domains of life.

The fear of pain or fear of the unknown (Will it hurt? Will it damage my vagina?) are a critical aspect of this condition. This fear can extend beyond social or partner relationships, as it can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s sexual life, either from the woman’s perspective or due to pressure from their partner to have coital relations, according to an assessment of quality of life in women with primary vaginismus published in the Chilean Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Decreasing self-esteem and the fear of pain associated with vaginismus can influence the manner of interaction the woman has with family, friends, colleagues, and other daily interactions. Crippling bouts of emotional turmoil can endanger her quality of life by avoiding the usual routines or taking a chance and instead hiding away from potentially embarrassing or awkward situations.

How Can Vaginismus Affect Daily Activities?

Vaginismus can influence various aspects of daily life. It can create hurdles in performing routine self-care tasks. For instance, using insertable menstrual aids – tampon, disc, cup – might become challenging or impossible due to the fear of pain or discomfort. For some women, genital hygiene is a hurdle as they won’t touch the area at all. 

The condition can also impact routine gynecological exams crucial for maintaining genital and reproductive health, as they are often avoided due to the anticipated discomfort or pain, or the inner sense that “I will not be able to do it anyway.”  Likewise with regard to vaginal ultrasound imaging, or even the inability to insert medication into the vagina in case of an infection.

Vaginismus may also compromise obstetric care: from difficulty conceiving to compromised medical care when the vagina is not accessible for pregnancy monitoring, to opting for a C-section because the clinician has never before been able to properly examine the vagina.

The psychological impact of vaginismus can also affect daily life. The ongoing stress and anxiety associated with the condition can affect concentration and productivity in professional or academic settings.

Social life can also be influenced as the condition might lead to avoidance of certain social situations where topics of intimacy, sexual health, or pregnancy could arise. This could potentially lead to feelings of isolation or loneliness, and deepen the sense of inadequacy.

The fear of pain associated with vaginismus might lead to avoidance of dating, relationships, or intimate situations.  Conversely, vaginismus may force the woman to stay in a negative relationship out of ‘I owe him” or because “with vaginismus, I don’t deserve better.”

Can vaginismus affect fitness and exercise routines?

Vaginismus should does not interfere with physical activities, such as fitness and exercise routines. You should be able to continue your fitness regimen without any changes.

Sadly, though, women with vaginismus are often advised by misled clinicians to alter their physical activities as a remedy — nothing can be further from the truth!  Examples of such bad advice:  

  • No running;
  • No swimming;
  • Walk slow; 
  • Walk fast;
  • Walk backward not to upset the vaginal muscles…
  • Don’t cross your legs;
  • No cycling;
  • No jumping;
  • No weight lifting.

Watch our video Treatment Misconception for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.

What are the Social Implications of Living with Vaginismus?

Vaginismus can have significant social implications, including emotional distress and stigma. It can disrupt relationships, especially when premarital relationships are constrained or forbidden, where sexual intimacy is expected without consideration, where marriage consummation is non-negotiable, or where pregnancy is required.

The emotional burden that comes with vaginismus is due to societal and religious expectations of sex. The Reproductive Health Journal notes the negative effect of vaginismus on the sexual life of couples in societies with certain restrictions.

How can vaginismus influence one’s social confidence and self-esteem?

Vaginismus can significantly impact social interactions and relationships, often contributing to emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. An article in The Open Public Health Journal titled “Mental Health in Women with Vaginismus” found that the self-esteem of women with vaginismus was lower than that of a group without vaginismus.

Another study called “Being a Woman in the Shadow of Vaginismus: The Implications of Vaginismus for Women,” published on Ingenta Connect and ResearchGate, highlighted that women with vaginismus are vulnerable to psychological disorders and negative self-perception can lead to low-level self-esteem.

How Can Vaginismus Affect Personal Relationships?

While vaginismus primarily affects an individual’s sex life: as vaginal intercourse is imposible or becomes painful, so do relationships. Vaginismus can increase anxiety and affect mental health, leading to issues in other personal relationships with family and friends. Sydney Pelvic Clinic discusses the stressors associated with vaginismus, noting that they can disrupt communication, especially around intimacy.

How does vaginismus affect intimate relationships?

Vaginismus poses a significant impact on a sexual relationship. Here’s how:

  • Sexual Intimacy: The most immediate impact of vaginismus on a relationship is the potential limitation or elimination of penetrative sex. Although the woman can fully engage in non-penetrative sexual activities, the one missing act – penetrative sex – can lead to frustration, stress, and feelings of inadequacy for both partners.
  • Emotional Strain: The woman with vaginismus often experiences guilt or shame due to her inability to engage in penetrative sex.  She feels as if she is ‘not a real woman’ or that she is ‘disappointing her partner/husband.’  This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and can cause emotional stress in the relationship. The partner might also feel confused, rejected,  inadequate, and may experience sexual dysfunction as a reaction, all which create great tension.
  • Communication: Vaginismus can lead to a breakdown in communication. Some partners might feel uncomfortable discussing the condition, which can lead to misunderstandings and assumptions. On the other hand, open communication about the situation can strengthen the relationship and help both partners understand each other’s feelings and concerns.
  • Self-Esteem Issues: Vaginismus can lead to self-esteem issues for the woman suffering from it. They may feel less feminine or flawed, which can negatively affect their mental health and overall happiness in the relationship.
  • Relationship Satisfaction: Over time, these issues can affect overall relationship satisfaction. For some couples, it may lead to a decline in the quality of their relationship, while for others, it might encourage them to seek help, communicate more openly, and find new ways of being intimate.
  • Avoidance of Intimacy: Some women may start to avoid all forms of physical intimacy to avoid pain or the anxiety associated with it, or to ‘push this problem away.’  Living as a brother-and-sister is quite common among couples struggling with vaginismus, with such a denial of intimacy causing further frustration and distance in the relationship. 
  • Impact on Future Relationships: If left untreated, vaginismus can also impact future relationships. The fear of pain or the memory of past painful experiences can make it difficult to engage in sexual activity even when the woman is in a new relationship.  Unless cured, the woman continues to feel ‘broken’ and ‘useless’ for any ‘normal relationship.’
  • Fertility and family planning: Vaginismus can make it difficult for a couple to conceive naturally, which can cause additional stress.  Although there are other methods of producing a child, the idea of not ‘doing it naturally’ is quite disheartening to the woman, and to the couple. 

It’s important to note that vaginismus does not affect the woman’s ability to get aroused and to enjoy non-penetrative sexual activities.  Also, vaginismus does not impact a woman’s fertility, short of the associated anxiety factor.

What can partners do to support someone with vaginismus?

Vaginismus can significantly impact intimate relationships, and the support of a partner can play a crucial role in managing the condition. Here are some ways partners can support their loved one with vaginismus:

  • Patience and Understanding: Overcoming vaginismus requires patience, understanding, and open communication. Approaching the issue with sensitivity is essential1.
  • Education: As a partner, knowing about the treatment options for vaginismus, including dilators, pelvic floor therapy, and cognitive behavior therapy, can be helpful.
  • Avoid Blame and Pressure: It’s important not to blame the person with vaginismus or keep asking when they’ll be able to have penetrative sex3.
  • Supportive Actions: Supporting a partner with vaginismus can involve educating yourself about the condition, going at your partner’s pace, regularly checking in with them during sex, and staying present.
  • Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy: Couples counseling and sex therapy can help jumpstart stalled communication or resolve lingering resentments.

What are the Impacts of Vaginismus on Professional Life?

Vaginismus can indirectly affect a woman’s professional life. Here’s how:

  • Stress and Anxiety: Living with a condition like vaginismus, which often carries social stigma, can cause stress and anxiety, which can, in turn, affect performance at work. Anxiety about the condition and its implications might distract the woman, preventing her from focusing on their tasks and duties.  Just the mere sighting of a colleague pregnant, or being asked for a tampon can be a sad reminder of her own problem.
  • Absences Due to Medical Appointments: Treatment for vaginismus often involves a range of approaches, including physical therapy, counseling, and use of medical devices. These may require regular appointments with healthcare providers, which could mean taking time off work.
  • Impact on Mental Health: The psychological implications of vaginismus can affect mental health. Individuals may experience depression, low self-esteem, or body image issues, which can indirectly impact their ability to function optimally at work.
  • Effect on Relationships: Vaginismus can strain personal relationships, especially romantic ones. The emotional toll this takes can impact an individual’s professional life, as they may be emotionally distracted or distressed.
  • Fatigue: Both the physical discomfort and the emotional stress caused by vaginismus can lead to fatigue, which can decrease productivity and motivation at work.
  • Implications for Career Choices: Some women might avoid jobs that require travel, or mental acuity, or working with pregnant women, all which may press her vaginismus ‘buttons.’  We had a surgical nurse confess that she always found an excuse to leave the room when asked to catheterize a female patient before the procedure… Or the many gynecologists with vaginismus who confessed to us that they put their mind in a blank mode when examining their patient in order not to be reminded of their own vaginismus…

About The Author

vaginismus specialist Dr. Ditza Katz team member Women's Therapy Center

    Post a comment

    Table of Contents