If you’ve ever experienced a muscle spasm in your private area during attempted vaginal penetration, vaginismus may be the reason. This condition can cause contractions when you’re trying to have sex, trying to insert a tampon, having a pelvic exam, or using a toy.
The gender pain gap has prevented widespread awareness about a variety of conditions that lead to untreated pain for women. Educate yourself by learning about vaginismus symptoms, how it differs from dyspareunia, and what options exist for treatment for vaginismus.
Know Your Vaginismus Symptoms
So, what is vaginismus? Vaginismus is so named because it causes the involuntary tensing or contraction of the pelvic floor muscles when anything attempts to enter it. The pelvic floor muscles are the muscles around the vagina, which connects the cervix to the outside of the body.
What Does It Mean to Have Muscle Spasms in Your Pelvic area?
Vaginismus symptoms include unintentional muscle spasms or tightening of the muscles when something tries to penetrate the vagina. This could be anything, from a tampon or a medical instrument to a penis or a finger.
Vaginismus symptoms can appear at any time between the late teen years and later in life. For example, it could happen the first time a menstruator tries to insert a tampon or has sex for the first time. Or the involuntary contractions may start later in life even if a woman has never had a muscle spasm in the private area before.
Signs of vaginismus include intense pain or discomfort during sex or the inability to even have sex, insert a tampon, or have a pelvic exam due to muscle spasms or pain. It’s not normal to experience intense pain while inserting something into the vagina, so you should seek medical care if this happens.
How is Vaginismus Diagnosed?
Given the frequency of doctors dismissing women’s pain, it’s no surprise that vaginismus often goes undiagnosed. Little is known about how many women suffer from this condition, probably because few women report it.
To arrive at a vaginismus diagnosis, your doctor will try to understand your symptoms and history. This may involve asking about any fears or beliefs around sex or a bad first sexual experience or medical exam you may have had. A pelvic exam would likely be needed to rule out other conditions as well as to confirm the occurrence of muscle spasms.
How Is Vaginismus Different Than Dyspareunia?
Due to shared symptoms and treatment options, it can be easy to confuse vaginismus and dyspareunia. Vaginismus is an involuntary tensing up of the vagina which can make sexual intercourse painful (dyspareunia). Dyspareunia is often the first sign of vaginismus. However, dyspareunia can occur without muscle spasms.
Both dyspareunia and vaginismus are grouped within genito-pelvic pain and penetration disorders in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Conforti, 2017) due to overlapping symptoms.
Things to Try and Treatments for Vaginismus
While there is no guaranteed treatment for vaginismus, there are a few strategies that women in pain from this condition have successfully used to find relief. Treatment for vaginismus aims to either reduce your muscle reflexes to lower the chances of them tensing up or target anxiety around vaginismus.
If you’ve consulted a doctor to ensure that your pain is not the result of another condition, then you can give these a try:
- Pelvic floor physiotherapy
Work with a physiotherapist who specializes in teaching you how to relax your pelvic floor muscles. This may include Kegel exercises and pelvic floor breathing exercises.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy
This psychological approach is used to treat anxiety by helping you understand how the way you think affects your emotions and behaviours. This can be useful when vaginismus is the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some types of penetration.
- Vaginal dilators
These are tube-shaped devices that are used to stretch the vagina to help you become less sensitive to vaginal penetration. You can apply a topical numbing cream to the outside of the vagina before using these for the first time to make it easier to insert.
Speak Up About Your Untreated Pain – Learn About How OVY From AIMA Can Help
When doctors downplay women’s health concerns, it can lead to delayed diagnoses, untreated pain, and accompanying psychological distress. That’s why AIMA is committed to closing the pain gap by raising awareness about women in pain, whether it’s period pain or conditions like vaginismus.
As part of our mission to provide person-centric, science-based, and transparent solutions for period discomfort, we’ve developed the OVY. This innovative CBD-enhanced vaginal suppository provides localized relief for period discomfort by acting on the cannabinoid receptors in the reproductive tract, bypassing the liver!
Whether you choose to try OVY or not, you can help us break the silence around extremely painful periods and other conditions that leave women in pain. Do you have a story about vaginismus? We’d love to hear about it to help raise awareness and narrow the gender pain gap.