It can feel like vaginal spasms that make sex painful. These spasms can be so strong your vagina “seals up” and becomes so tight that nothing can enter. Mentally, you may want to have sex… but your body is not cooperating. If this sounds familiar, you may have vaginismus. The first thing to note is that you’re not alone. And, it can be treated.
What’s the cause?
“Vaginismus – or the involuntary contraction of the vagina – is the most common problem among my clients,” explains Singapore clinical sexologist Dr Martha Tara Lee of Singapore’s Eros Coaching.
It’s estimated to affect one in 10 women, and in most cases, it’s triggered by a fear of penetration. This may be due to performance anxiety or a fear of getting pregnant. For example, you may have heard too many scary stories like, “Sex is painful. Only men want sex, good girls do not. And when you give birth, there will be so much blood and pain.”
A lack of sexual or physical knowledge can also cause these involuntary spasms. “How does the penis fit? Will it damage me?”
Vaginismus can also be caused by sexual trauma or abuse. And in 10 percent of cases, it’s triggered by a hormonal imbalance, infection of the reproductive system, menopausal dryness or emotional trauma from a difficult childbirth.
How do you treat it?
See a gynaecologist to check for infections or hormonal imbalances, but a clinical sexologist can help you get to the bottom of what’s psychologically holding you back. This will begin with the biology of sex, and why you feel so worried, deep down.
You also get to practice vaginal penetration using smooth penis-shaped objects, and the treatment may also involve kegel exercises for the pelvic floor.
The intense stress on relationships
A woman with vaginismus “will usually blame herself for her condition, and these feelings of anxiety can cause the condition to spiral out of control,” says Dr Martha. Unsurprisingly, a lot of relationships break up because of it.
Janice* fed her new husband Richard* excuses about being tired or sick to put off consummating their marriage. When they did finally try to make love, neither enjoyed it.
Richard admits he felt frustrated: “I felt our relationship was incomplete.”
After three years of almost no sex, they got help. “It was a relief to realise we were not alone,” says Richard.
With the help of a gynaecologist and a sexologist, the vaginismus was cured and the couple now enjoy making love – and they have two kids.
Dr Martha urges women dealing with vaginismus to explain their pain to their partner. “He already senses something’s wrong. He can develop confidence issues if you always avoid sex. Focus on the facts, so he doesn’t feel it’s his fault. Then seek help, preferably together.”
This article was first published on Cleo.com.sg