Vaginismus – a secret pain

Words by Annabelle Lee
Art by Freya Lauersen

Sex should be an enjoyable act experienced by both parties, but as we know, this isn’t always the case.

Amongst several other more personalised causes of what is usually mild uneasiness for some, one factor that can contribute towards uncomfortable sex for women is a condition aptly named vaginismus.

Not only does the inability to perform penetration via the vagina completely hinder sex and all the physical and mental benefits that accompany it (yes, there are many); it also thwarts the VERY necessary tasks of tampon and menstrual cup insertion, as well as pap smears.

What is vaginismus, I hear you ask? vaginismus involves the involuntary muscle contraction and spasm of a woman’s vagina, where the pain for each sufferer varies. What is certain though, is that vaginismus is not a well-versed condition. Many women are not aware of it, including myself before commencing research. Because of this, diagnosis leaves countless women feeling ashamed and alone about something entirely out of their control.

‘Primary Vaginismus’ stems from birth, where some people have experienced its effects for a lifetime and the cause of it is unknown. But ‘Secondary Vaginismus’ can develop at any point in a woman’s life, after having experienced sex.

Although the cause of ‘Primary Vaginismus’ is largely unknown, some causes of ‘Secondary Vaginismus’ have been roughly determined, including: UTIs, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stress, menopause, childbirth, and even a general negative feeling towards the act of sex and the idea of sexual stimulation. This means, vaginismus can often be a solely mental condition, which does not at all minimise its negative effects.

So, for all those stoic vaginismus sufferers out there, we’re here to tell you you’re not alone. There are ways to make sex more pleasurable, and they come in the form of relatively simple tasks.

Kegel exercises, or pelvic floor muscle exercises, consist of contracting and relaxing the pelvic muscles to strengthen the area. This can potentially help those with vaginismus regain full control of the area and rid themselves of the unwanted pain. Touching your own vagina is encouraged by doctors, in hopes it will allow sufferers to decrease the sensitivity in the area over time. As the days go by and sensitivity to external touching is reduced, inserting fingers is then recommended. Alternatively, and in more serious cases, botox can be injected in the area to calm and reduce the spasms in the pelvic floor muscles.

But, for some, vaginismus is a purely mental condition, and so to combat pain for them, using systematic desensitisation may be the answer. This method creates a hierarchy of any type of fear – in this case, the fear attached to the act of sex – and slowly introduces techniques to cope with each level of fear methodically. One might also opt for antidepressants to reduce the anxiety that accompanies the condition.

Perhaps most importantly for the vaginismus sufferers who are affected mentally, is education about sexual encounters, experiences, and the anatomy of sex. This helps them understand that sex should not be associated with fear, and that the processes the body takes to practice sex may initially be painful but the overall experience is in fact the opposite. If anyone has experience the above symptoms of intense muscle spasms in the vagina, please don’t hesitate speak to your health care professional.

Vaginismus is real, it’s common, and it should be no secret.

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