Bodies are a peculiar thing. Sometimes we may want something from them so badly but they just will not co-operate.
This is a fact that people with Vaginismus confront daily.
What Is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a sexual dysfunction that manifests physically but has an impact on all aspects of the sufferer’s life.
It is characterised by the involuntary contraction of the muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted. ‘Penetration’ here is used in the loosest sense. Some people find that they experience discomfort specifically from sexual penetration whereas some cannot even insert a tampon (or smaller).
Aside from the expected sexual frustrations this can cause, it also makes medical examinations a potentially problematic or traumatising experience.
There are generally two recognised types of Vaginismus—primary and secondary. Primary Vaginismus refers to those who have always experienced pain from penetration, secondary is for those who have developed the condition later in life.
What Causes Vaginismus?
The causes for Vaginismus are as varied as the social and sexual experiences of the sufferer’s themselves.
Typically, Vaginismus has a cognitive element to it—where the brain has associated penetration with pain, fear, or anxiety, and the body reacts accordingly, regardless of the sufferer’s feelings on the matter. But, if we were to break it down, the main causes could be considered societal, personal, and physical.
Many sufferers of Primary Vaginismus find that the societal representation of sex has played a huge part in their physical response to penetration. Those who grew up with the message that sex is inherently painful may clench when initially penetrated, for example, which then reinforces the association and loops in a cycle of pain. People who come from heavily religious backgrounds or those that have inappropriate sex education may also find themselves in this situation.
Things can also get personal too, and this is often an extension of how society views sex. A sufferer may have had very strict or shaming parents, for example, or encountered a depiction of sex that resonated with them in a traumatic manner, causing the mental association.
Then, unfortunately, there are also those who have been victims of sexual trauma, abuse, or violence. In these situations, the pain association is perfectly understandable (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the individual) but suffers in these situations may feel particularly betrayed by their body—as it refuses to let them move on from the trauma.
There are also those who had a bad experience during childbirth, a particularly nasty infection, or a similarly painful physical experience that has triggered their body to associate the genital area with pain. This can be especially shocking for those who had previously never suffered from Vaginismus and find that their body suddenly refuses to co-operate with something they know they enjoy.
So, What’s The Solution?
Vaginismus can often be a vicious cycle of attempted insertion, pain, self-loathing and other negative thoughts (which serve to reinforce the association), and then more attempts and further pain, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Because there is a clear association between thought processes and physical reactions cognitive behavioural therapy has huge success rates for those with Vaginismus.
Dilators—a series of gradually increasing insertables—have also yielded incredible results, as they allow sufferers to build up to penetration at their own pace. There was a time when dilator-users didn’t have many options but this is rapidly changing.
Now dilators come in different colours, material types, shapes and sizes. Some look purely medical whereas others clearly encourage users to embrace dilations not just as a treatment but also as a method through which to reclaim their sexual confidence.
Lubricant can also make all the difference when working towards Vaginismus recovery. The most important elements though are patience, understanding, support (in whatever form it takes) aaaand…
Finding Your Own Pace
There is no time limit on Vaginismus recovery. There is no right and wrong way to use dilators or even to perceive penetration. Sex itself doesn’t even need to be defined through penetration (heteronormative as that assumption is, after all) and everyone should feel free to set their own boundaries and work at their own pace.
After all the crucial aspect of Vaginismus recovery is not how much one can fit in their body but, more the compassion one is able to cultivate over time. It’s not always easy, especially when one’s own body is ‘the enemy’, but it is worth it.