What is Vaginismus?
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is defined as an involuntary vaginal muscle spasm. Your muscles may feel like they are tightening up or cramping. These sensations are often manifested into a painful experience. The severity and type of symptoms can vary person to person.
How common is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is becoming better understood with the growth of scientific and clinical work. However, the condition is still not a popular topic in conversations amongst social groups, families, and medical professionals. Scientific literature predicts that it affects 5-17% of people with a vagina (although the number is likely higher given that many people do not know they have the condition).
Signs that you may have Vaginismus
- Inability to insert a tampon
- Medical examinations such as a Pap smear is difficult or impossible
- Sexual activity including penetration is painful
- Intense phobia or fear of penetration/intercourse
Why are you struggling with this?
These involuntary contractions are often triggered with a psychological or physical stimulus.
- Fear – A large percentage of individuals with vaginismus report significant fear of pain and share similar characteristics with people experiencing specific types of phobias.
- Trauma – Onset of this condition can sometimes be traced back to an origin of psychological and/or physical trauma (for example: sexual, physical, or emotional abuse)
- Negative sexual attitudes – Vaginismus can be connected to a lack of sexual knowledge and presence of sexual guilt
- Relationship factors – Dysfunctions in a relationship have often been reported in individuals struggling with the condition.
- Biological factors – Experiencing one of the following conditions/events may trigger vaginismus: infections, genital surgery, endometriosis, and childbirth
How Can Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy help?
- Education – your physiotherapist will be able to teach you about the physiological mechanisms behind why you are experiencing pain and how you can be an active participant in your road to managing and/or overcoming vaginismus.
- Manual therapy – your physiotherapist may utilize hands-on techniques to help bring awareness to your vaginal musculature, decrease sensitivity/pain, and relax tension.
- Tools – your physiotherapist may recommend and get you started on a protocol incorporating devices to physically aid in the relaxation of your muscles. These may include the use of vaginal dilators or biofeedback.
- Cognitive component – your physiotherapist may give you mental exercises to help you address your anxieties and fears. This may include breathing, relaxation, and imagery exercises.
- Referrals – your physiotherapist will be able to recommend if it would be beneficial for you to seek an adjunct form of therapy including psychotherapy, sex therapy, or couples therapy.
The Good News
Pelvic floor physiotherapists really enjoy working with individuals experiencing vaginismus! They begin by conducting a thorough initial assessment to discover what might be contributing to your vaginismus experience. They will then establish an intervention plan that fits into your lifestyle to specifically address these psychological and physical factors. Clients who complete an individualized treatment program often report decreased fear, improved sexual relationships/sexual function, decreased vaginal muscle tension/spasm, and resolution of other symptoms experienced with vaginismus.
See one of our pelvic floor physiotherapists today if you think you may be experiencing vaginismus and get started with your journey!
Lahaie, M., Boyer, S., Amsel, R., Khalife, S., & Binik, Y. (2010). Vaginismus: a review of the literature on the classification/diagnosis, etiology and treatment. Women’s Health, 6(5), 705-719. doi: 10.2217/whe.10.46
Level 2: The Role of Physiotherapy in the Treatment of Anyone Experiencing Pelvic Pain Through a Trauma Informed Lens. Pelvic Health Solutions. 2021.