Vaginism

What is Vaginism?

Vaginism (also known as Vaginismus) is a condition in which an attempt to insert something into a woman's vagina causes the muscles surrounding the vagina to tighten, and to clamp shut, making penetration painful or impossible.

Vaginism can affect sexual intercourse as well as gynaecological examinations and even the use of tampons.

Vaginism is involuntary, and can be compared to any other reflex action where the body closes up as a reflex, like when the eye blinks if something approaches it.

In vaginism, although the closing of the vagina is involuntary, it is often due to a learned response to pain, that is to say, the woman expects pain, or remembers previous painful experiences, or simply imagines that penetration will be painful, and the vaginism reflex occurs. Vaginism can be helped very successfully.

Woman with vaginism can get caught in a 'catch 22' situation. They subconsciously expect, or fear pain, and the muscles tighten up. If penetration is then attempted, it can be painful simply because the muscles are tight. What happens then, is that the pain then subconsciously re-inforces the fear, tells the subconscious that it was right to fear the pain, and it can cause an even stronger response the next time.

Primary Vaginism

Primary vaginism is the name given to the condition when the woman has never been able to have sexual intercourse.

Primary vaginism is often discovered in the teenage years, when the girl tries to use tampons, or goes for an internal examination and finds it to be extremely uncomfortable. This fear of pain then causes an anxiety which will bring with it the conditioned reflex response of closing upwhenever the woman then subsequently attempt intercourse.

Secondary Vaginism

Secondary vaginism is the name given to the condition where the woman has been able to achieve penetration in the past, but develops vaginism after some time.

Treatment for vaginism is often easier for women with secondary vaginismus than it is for women with primary vaginism, simply because the woman is aware that penetration without pain is possible.

What causes vaginism?

If vaginism has a psychologcal side to it (i.e. isn't caused by a physical problem), then it can often be caused by the way that the woman thinks about things in advance of sex itself (so called 'negative thoughts' or 'unhelpful thoughts').

This is sometimes called 'anticipatory anxiety', and can often be recognised by the woman, because she either worries about sex in advance, or feels that her vaginism is caused by some kind of 'mental block', or feels that her 'thinking' has an effect on her sex life.

What can I do to overcome vaginism?

If you feel that your vaginism does have some kind of psychological side to it (mental block), then we strongly recommend that you do something to help you manage the way you think about things.

Because many of the 'negative thoughts' that contribute to vaginism often come from (for example) worrying about your partner might think of you (social anxiety), we recommend the LifeShaping Social Anxiety Programme.

The programme is relatively quick to do, but can really help you to manage the way you think about things, and bring things back under control.

Even if you then decide to go on to meet with a therapist one-to-one, we do advise that anyone who identifies with this 'mental block' tries this programme first.

Read more about the programme

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