Let’s talk about vaginismus…imagine it’s your wedding night. You’re a virgin and looking forward to having sex with your husband for the first time… but, despite best intentions, it doesn’t happen. The reason is a condition called vaginismus, a sexual problem that’s rarely talked about.
Virginity and the issues surrounding it were discussed in a recent program on one of our TV stations, where the host spoke with medical professionals and guests from different cultures. Several issues were covered but, unfortunately, vaginismus wasn’t one of them.
As a sex therapist, I see many women who come from a cultural or religious background where sex before marriage is not allowed or frowned upon; they sometimes end up with this condition, which can result in unconsummated marriages.
Women who suffer from vaginismus find that attempts at sexual intercourse are unsuccessful or very painful.
What is Vaginismus?
The condition is caused by the involuntary contraction of the muscles around the entrance to the vagina. The spasm constricts the vaginal opening, making it virtually impossible to have intercourse. The man is not able to penetrate, it feels like he has hit a brick wall.
As this is often experienced on, or after, the wedding night you can imagine how distressing this is for a couple who can’t understand what is happening. They have waited so long and now having intercourse is impossible.
Common struggles with Vaginismus
Women with vaginismus may feel sexually inadequate and can experience feelings of intense shame and failure. The male partner may experience loss of desire and problems with erection. The combination of erectile difficulties and vaginismus is not uncommon. He fears hurting his partner and loses his erection whenever he tries to penetrate. Or he may ejaculate before he can penetrate.
It is such a taboo that couples are often too embarrassed to discuss the issue with family or friends and suffer in silence. They avoid questions from the family about why they don’t have children yet and feel extremely sad when their friends tell them what a great sex life they have.
Some couples take years before they finally look for help and then they are often misdiagnosed. It is quite unbelievable that in Australia, many GPs and sometimes even gynecologists do not know about the condition.
Typical comments heard
My clients are often told: “there is nothing wrong with you; it is all in your head”, “keep trying, you will get used to it”, “use an anesthetic cream” or “drink some alcohol to make you feel more relaxed”.
Some women were told their vaginas are too small and they need an operation to widen their entrance or that they need to undergo hymenectomy, a procedure to remove all or part of the hymen. One client believed she may have vaginismus when she googled ‘painful sex’ and suggested this to her female gynecologist; who told her in a quite patronizing tone “don’t believe anything you find on the internet” which made her stop looking for solutions for another six months.
Most of the women I see have spent much of their lives in Australia, they are university-educated professionals in their mid or late-twenties who are settling down and getting married. They may not be that religious, but out of respect for their family and culture, have decided not to have sex before marriage. One recent client told me she just wanted to be “a good girl” but is angry that she waited so long and has now ended up with this problem.
Most women with vaginismus were told by their mothers not to use tampons when they were young; they just didn’t swim or go to the beach when they had their periods. They were told not to insert any object into the vagina for fear of breaking the hymen. Most had inadequate sex education and received unhealthy sexual messages. Many were told that sex would be extremely painful and there would be blood.
Treatment for Vaginismus
Vaginismus is easily treated by counselling, education, anxiety reduction, and retraining of the pelvic floor muscles. Psychosexual education is important as it is essential for a woman to gain knowledge of her sexual anatomy. Through counselling she can free herself of the moral beliefs that can contribute to her condition.
Post-counselling I refer my clients to a pelvic floor physiotherapist who specialises in this area. The treatment of vaginismus involves unlearning the fear-contraction reflex and being taught to keep the pelvic floor muscles relaxed during intercourse.
Successful treatment does not require drugs, surgery, Botox injections, hypnosis, or any complex invasive techniques, and a full recovery is possible.
I wrote this article about two years ago after writing a similar one a year earlier. I see at least three or four women with this condition every month in my practice. My articles are posted online only on the Life&Style page, therefore not always read by the general public.
Therefore I contacted several professional health writers, well-known doctors who write for magazines, editors of magazines and papers, etc. with the suggestion to write an article about this condition to bring it out in the ‘open’. The issue seems to be one nobody seems keen to write about. Any thoughts??
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