Vaginismus is a gynecologic condition that makes vaginal penetration painful and sometimes even impossible. It occurs when your vaginal muscles contract involuntarily, and it’s a complex condition that’s linked to physical and psychological factors.
Every woman’s sexual experience is unique, and experts aren’t sure why some people develop vaginismus while others do not. If you experience pain with sex or other types of penetration, like getting a pelvic exam or inserting a tampon, it’s important to recognize that pain isn’t normal.
At the Women’s Center at Life Point Medical, Monique Petteys, FNP-C, and our team are dedicated to diagnosing and treating all types of sexual dysfunction. Vaginismus can be a source of embarrassment for the women that suffer it, but we’re here to help you understand the condition and get the treatment you need.
Possible causes of vaginismus
Vaginismus is characterized by a cycle of pain. For example, experiencing pain with penetration once may increase your anxiety the next time. Your body tenses in anticipation of pain, and then you’re more likely to experience pain again. The cycle repeats, and both physical and mental factors are at play.
Involuntary muscle contractions are the primary physical cause of vaginismus. The muscles of your vagina tense up when you attempt vaginal penetration, which causes pain that can range from mild to severe.
But there are many possible reasons why you experience these involuntary muscle contractions. Some possible physical causes include prior gynecologic surgery or a history of injury during childbirth, like vaginal tears. These factors can increase your anxiety around vaginal penetration and contribute to involuntary muscle contractions.
Gynecologic infections, like urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections, usually don't cause vaginismus on their own, but they can worsen symptoms.
A number of emotional and psychological factors can also contribute to vaginismus. A few of the most common include anxiety, fear, or negative feelings about sex. Women who have a history of sexual abuse, including rape or trauma, may be more likely to experience vaginismus.
These mental factors can cause vaginismus with or without physical factors. The mental and physical elements of vaginismus are closely linked, and they often work together to worsen your symptoms.
Sometimes, there’s no clear cause for vaginismus. It’s commonly diagnosed in teens and young adult women when they experience pain with sex or other types of vaginal penetration. However, older women may develop vaginismus with no prior symptoms.
Finding care for vaginismus symptoms
Pain with vaginal penetration can be embarrassing and frustrating, especially when you can’t identify what’s causing it. Experts don’t know exactly how many women suffer from the condition because many hesitate to bring it up with their doctors — but vaginismus can be treated.
Our team provides compassionate care for women with vaginismus. To start, we review your symptoms and medical history. Then, we do a pelvic exam, taking care to move slowly, explain what’s happening, and use numbing medication as needed to help you feel more comfortable.
If we identify vaginismus, you have a range of treatment options available to you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, and sex therapy can all address the psychological factors contributing to your condition.
Physical treatments, including pelvic floor therapy and vaginal dilators, can help you become more comfortable with the feeling of vaginal penetration and build flexibility in your vaginal muscles.
Pain with sex and vaginal penetration isn’t normal, and it can be treated. Contact our Clayton office to get a diagnosis and treatment plan that fits your needs.