This same article first appeared in The Online Citizen.
Recently a girlfriend admitted that until she met me, she had always thought that vaginismus was a myth – a disease that was made up, or had been eradicated in the ’80s, and most definitely did not exist in modern day.
In fact, vaginismus is a very real sexual concern that women experience, and more common than we might think.
Vaginismus is the instantaneous tightening of the muscles around the vagina when penetration of the vagina is attempted, making penetration difficult, painful or impossible. This involuntary reaction happens because the body perceives penetration as upsetting, painful (in anticipation of it), frightening, or dangerous. The mind may be willing, but the body is screaming “No Entry!”
Both the woman with vaginismus and her partner can feel very distressed, helpless, frustrated, and inadequate. She might experience self-blame and a loss of self-confidence for her inability to have penetrative sex. Inaccurate sexual information and the lack of understanding of the woman’s body will worsen the condition, often leading to alienation and even break-ups.
When Cindy*, 28, came to see me, she had already sought treatment from several gynaecologists who had examined her, found nothing physically wrong with her and told her to “just relax”. One doctor suggested she used a dilator kit, which helps expand the vaginal passage gradually, but Cindy rejected it as being too intimidating.
Melissa*, 35 and married for 10 years, has the same condition. She came to see me frustrated with the lack of concrete results after having paid top dollar to see the best gynaecologists. Melissa was examined each visit and instructed to do Kegel exercises (which consists of contracting and relaxing the muscles that form part of the pelvic floor) – but she was not told why. Like Cindy, there was little dialogue between doctor and patient.
Realising that the cause was psychological, I made sure both ladies understood their sexual anatomy (what is what and where), and the sexual response cycle (what happens during sex). We began a conversation about what she can expect to feel and what can be done to alleviate pain during penetrative sex; this conversation continued through the course of our sessions. The process to demystify what sex was and deal directly with their condition had begun.
I taught my clients a combination of breathing and relaxation techniques, physical callisthenics, and pelvic exercises which she was to do each day. The purpose was to retrain her to develop awareness and comfort with her body as well as to sensitize and strengthen her pelvic muscles. I encouraged Cindy and Melissa to each keep a journal so she could monitor her own progress, record any feelings and memories that came up, and to better remember what she would like to share with me during our sessions.
By our second session, Cindy said she felt ‘different’ physically but was unable to articulate how exactly. In her determination to overcome vaginismus, she had already been practising vaginal insertion with her dildo. I encouraged her to continue her daily practice. Also, I suggested that rather than push or force an object into her vagina, she could simply hold the dildo at the entrance of her vagina, incorporating her breathing and relaxation exercises, so her vagina would ‘open up’ and ‘receive’ naturally.
Similarly, I encouraged Melissa to purchase a dildo, smaller than the vibrator she already had, and to practise at home. She is to attempt penetration after having achieved her orgasm through self stimulation. When Melissa emailed to say she was able to do self penetration with her dildo without pain, I knew she was close to a break through.
In our third session, Cindy wondered aloud how penetrative sex would change her and her relationship. I was secretly delighted at how our conversation had progressed from what sex was about, and dealing with pain, to what might change for her emotionally when penetrative sex did happen.
Cindy was unable to see me for a few weeks due to work. However, when I next heard from her – it was fantastic news! She had been successful in penetrative sex with her partner for the first time.
Melissa had amazing news of her own! She was able to have successful penetrative sex with her husband before our third session – thrice in fact, each time better than the previous encounter. She was overjoyed, “I cannot thank you enough. You are truly God-sent. I have been struggling for so long. This is better than winning [a] one-million-dollar lottery.”
In her thank you note, Cindy wrote, “If I had not met you, I am certain that I would still be in the same position I was in a few months ago, struggling with something that I thought was near impossible.”
I saw Cindy for a fourth time where we discussed methods to better enjoy the sex she was already having. At our third session, Melissa was radiant, glowing with joy and more beautiful than I have seen her. Her husband and her are communicating more, happier than ever and enjoying every sexual experience. Both ladies are well on their way to greater sexual pleasure and satisfaction, and embracing life as a complete being.
Miracle worker, I am not. I provided Cindy and Melissa with the education, encouragement, and individualized treatment based on techniques that have been proven to work. Vaginismus is treatable.
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