Sexual Dysfunction Vaginismus

Vaginismus is a condition that causes involuntary contraction of the vaginal muscles. The pubococcygeus (PC) and other pelvic floor muscles tense suddenly, which makes any sort of penetration difficult or even impossible.

Women with vaginismus are often unable to:

  • tolerate vaginal penetration
  • experience vaginal penetration without pain
  • insert tampons
  • undergo a pelvic exam.

Symptoms of vaginismus include:

  • avoidance of sex because of pain
  • burning, stinging and tightness during sexual intercourse
  • discomfort or pain during sex following childbirth, hysterectomy, illness or trauma
  • muscle spasms in other areas of the body or halted breathing during intercourse attempts.

Vaginismus is not a common problem. It affects fewer than two percent of women in the United States. Recent studies show that between five and 47 percent of women with sexual problems experience vaginismus.

Primary and Secondary Vaginismus

Women who have had vaginismus all their lives have primary vaginismus. Some sufferers of primary vaginismus have never been able to have sexual intercourse, receive a gynecological exam or use tampons. Others have always had painful and difficult intercourse.

Sometimes vaginismus can develop later in life, even after years of satisfying sexual activity. This is called secondary vaginismus.

Causes of Vaginismus

Vaginismus does not have a single cause. Both primary and secondary vaginismus can occur due to a variety of physical and non-physical problems. Non-physical causes include:

  • anxiety and stress
  • childhood experiences
  • fear of pain, pregnancy or tissue damage
  • guilty feelings about sexuality
  • relationship issues such as abuse, control, trust and vulnerability
  • traumatic events such as rape or violence.

Some of the physical causes of vaginismus are naturally occurring changes in a woman’s body. Childbirth, hormonal changes and menopause can all trigger vaginismus. Vaginismus can also be brought on by other medical conditions such as:

  • cancer
  • cysts
  • eczema
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • urinary tract infections or urination problems
  • vaginal prolapse
  • yeast infections.

Pelvic trauma is another cause of vaginismus. For example, women who have had pelvic surgery, including a hysterectomy, could experience vaginismus soon after the surgery. Trauma caused by rape and assault can also trigger vaginismus. In addition, fears after a surgical procedure or an attack can result in the pelvic floor contractions of vaginismus.

In some cases, the cause of vaginismus remains unknown. Luckily it is not always necessary to know the exact cause to treat it successfully, although this knowledge can be very helpful in treatment.

Vaginismus Treatment

Because of the variety of vaginismus causes, treatment can be physical or psychological and is often individualized. Vaginismus help can be found through counseling or therapy aimed at resolving issues such as fears, strict religious upbringing and traumatic experiences.

Therapy helps women with vaginismus deal with the problems of depression and low self-esteem that often accompany this condition. Vaginismus support groups are available and help women with vaginismus to understand that they aren’t alone.

Physical treatment of vaginismus is used to help relax pelvic floor muscles by using:

  • botox
  • insertion or dilation training
  • pelvic floor exercises.

Vaginismus and Pregnancy

Women with vaginismus can become pregnant, even when intercourse is painful. In rare cases, pregnancy can even occur in unconsummated relationships if ejaculation occurs close enough to the vaginal area.

Many women are hopeful that the stretching of the vaginal tissues during childbirth will cure their vaginismus. Unfortunately, since vaginismus is caused by muscle contractions, tissue stretching does not cure this condition. Some women do find that their vaginismus improves after childbirth, but others find that the condition worsens or begins after the birth of a child.

Resources

A.D.A.M., Inc. (2008). Vaginismus. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from the MedlinePlus Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001487.htm.

Vaginismus Awareness Network. (n.d.). Pregnancy and vaginismus. Retrieved April 27, 2008 from the Vaginismus Awareness Network Web site: http://www.vaginismus-awareness-network.org/pregnancy.html.

Vaginismus.com (2007). Learn about vaginismus. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from the Vaginismus.com Web site: http://www.vaginismus.com/vaginismus-causes/#non-physical_causes.