Vagina! There. We said it. Now we can talk about it without feeling too embarrassed. In fact, today we’re going to talk about a condition that is sometimes difficult to talk about because it involves painful vaginal spasms. We’re talking about Vaginismus.
What is Vaginismus?
Let’s look at the word itself. The first part of the word, “vagin-,” refers to the vagina, of course. And the second part of the word, “-ismus,” means to contract or spasm. So, there you have it. Vaginismus is characterized by involuntary vaginal spasms, usually in response to something entering the vagina. This could include a penis, a speculum used in pelvic exams, or even a tampon.
It’s difficult to say how common vaginal spasms are because many people feel embarrassed to talk about anything related to sex or genitalia. But Vaginismus does seem to be more prevalent in teenage girls and young women who don’t have a lot of sexual experience.
What causes vaginal spasms?
The truth: We don’t know exactly.
Vaginal spasms seem to be more common after sexual trauma or another unpleasant or painful sexual experience. Anxiety or other negative feelings about intercourse may also contribute. Yet, some women report having no prior negative experiences, trauma, or emotional aversions to sex and still experience involuntary vaginal spasms.
If you’re experiencing vaginal spasms or have experienced sexual abuse or trauma, we want you to know this: You have done absolutely nothing wrong. Your experience is valid and real, and you deserve to be taken seriously by your healthcare professional, partner, family, and the authorities, where applicable. Say it again. And keep saying it.
Symptoms of Vaginismus
Most signs and symptoms of Vaginismus include pain or discomfort with vaginal penetration. This includes painful intercourse – also known as dyspareunia – and an inability to have penetrating sex, or a pelvic exam, due to painful vaginal spasms. A lot of times, this is because of an underlying fear of penetration.
Women with Vaginismus describe the feeling as a burning or stinging sensation or as if the penis were hitting a wall. Add that to the fear associated with penetration, and it’s no wonder that low sex drive is also common among menstruators with Vaginismus.
If this sound like you, please make an appointment to see your healthcare professional. We know it can be difficult to discuss something so intimate, but you deserve to be heard. You deserve treatment. And you deserve to enjoy your amazing body.
What to expect at your appointment
Before your appointment, write down your symptoms. Ask yourself:
- When was the first time I experienced symptoms?
- Have I had a negative sexual experience?
- What does the pain or discomfort feel like?
- How often do I have symptoms?
- Does it happen when I insert a tampon? Or only during intercourse?
At the appointment, take a deep breath. Take two. And then tell your doctor what’s going on. It may help to bring notes so you don’t forget anything important, and tracking on the Hormona app can really help with that.
Now, your doctor may want to do a pelvic exam to check for any infections or physiological reasons for the pain. In many places, it has become common for two healthcare providers to be present in the room during these types of exams. If this would make you feel more comfortable, but your doctor doesn’t offer this, ask! Alternatively, consider bringing someone you trust to the appointment with you.
Treatment for vaginal spasms
Assuming they find no other apparent reasons for the pain you’re experiencing, your doctor may suggest a variety of treatments, such as:
- Counseling: If you’ve experienced sexual trauma or abuse, therapy can be an excellent way to help you overcome the mental and emotional repercussions that are now manifesting themselves in your body. Find someone who is specifically trained to help people in this situation. A sex therapist or someone specializing in trauma would be a great place to start. And please remember, don’t give up if the first few therapists don’t work out. Keep looking. The right therapist is out there for you.
- Meditation: Your therapist may recommend a meditation or relaxation routine. The idea is that the more in tune you are with your body, the more aware you’ll be of your body’s response to stimuli, including vaginal penetration.
- Physical therapy: A referral to someone specializing in pelvic floor muscles is another option for treatment. But it’s more than just doing Kegel exercises – although that will probably be part of it. They may also give you other exercises to stretch the vaginal opening and help you and your body become more familiar with the pressure and sensations of vaginal penetration.
- Topical cream: You may be offered a prescription for a topical cream to help you manage pain. This isn’t a long-term solution, but may be temporarily helpful in conjunction with other treatments.
Should I tell my partner? How?
Differences in sexual preferences can become a wedge in some relationships. If you’re in a long-term relationship, vaginal spasms may already be a source of sadness, disappointment, or tension for you and your partner. Sometimes, knowing what you’re experiencing is recognized by the medical community can help you feel validated. And it may help your partner have more understanding and empathy for what you’re experiencing. So, you should at least consider telling them.
If you’re thinking of telling your partner, here are some tips:
- Figure out what you want to say and write it down. You can even use your notes during the conversation. We know it sounds a little odd, but it’s an important conversation! And if you’re nervous, you might find that all logical thoughts disappear from your mind as soon as you open your mouth. No one wants that.
- Set the stage. We don’t mean candles and perfume. We mean let your partner know ahead of time that you have something important you want to talk about. That way, when you do sit down to talk, you won’t be in a rush. And your partner will have a chance to mentally prepare to be receptive to what you have to say.
- Share. Share your symptoms and what you’ve learned about Vaginismus. If you’ve been to your doctor already, you may want to share that information too. If you haven’t had an appointment yet, you could invite them to come, even if they just sit in the waiting room or wait for you in the car.
Remember that Vaginismus often affects partners too. They may feel sad, relieved, hurt, or anything in between. Try to be patient. It might be a difficult conversation to have, but if it strengthens your relationship, it’s worth it.
Vaginal spasms: Outlook
Okay, we may not know exactly what causes vaginal spasms, but it doesn’t mean you can’t experience pleasure and live a fulfilling life. In fact, after receiving treatment, many women report not having any symptoms at all. So, treatment does work, but it takes time and consistency. And while you receive and work through treatment, you can still go out there and crush it.
Your sex life
Interestingly, Vaginismus doesn’t always affect your ability to get aroused or experience an orgasm. Oral sex and other forms of non-penetrating touch are still enjoyable to many people and can lead to orgasm. Think of it as an opportunity for experimentation. What else feels good to you? What else feels good to your partner? In what other ways can you enjoy intimacy? Sounds like an adventure to us!
Managing your period
You still have options if vaginal spasms make it difficult for you to use a tampon, menstrual disc, or cup. Of course, there are disposable pads. But if you don’t like the feel or sound of those, may we suggest reusable pads? You can get them all over the internet. Or, you may be surprised to find someone in your area who makes them from home. They may even allow you to choose your size, shape, absorbancy, material, print, etc. So, they’re literally perfect for you!
There are also several different companies now selling period underwear. Sometimes you can even find them on the shelf at your local drugstore! They can be a bit pricey, but they last a long time and are extremely comfortable. They come in different sizes, styles, and absorbancies and feel just like normal underwear.
And did you know they make period bathing suits? It’s wild how far we’ve come in terms of technology to help women manage their periods. So, if you have the funds, try something new. You might discover a period solution you didn’t know you needed.
Sometimes it seems like women get the short end of the stick. Cramping, mood swings, monthly bleeding, menopause, etc. And now vaginal spasms! It’s a lot. The good news is we’re all in good company. So, let’s recap Vaginismus.
- Vaginismus is the involuntary contracting of the vaginal muscles in response to penetration of any kind and is more prevalent after a negative sexual encounter.
- Sharing with your partner or someone you trust can help you feel validated and supported.
- See your doctor to come up with a treatment plan.
- You can still live a fulfilling life.
- If you have symptoms or have experienced sexual trauma, you have done nothing wrong, and you don’t have to figure this out on your own. Reach out to medical professionals, a therapist, your friends or family, and the authorities, when necessary.
Real talk: Treatment for vaginal spasms takes time. But with commitment and support, you will get through it. And in the meantime, know that you’re not alone, and we’re always here for you.