Vaginismus: definition and ways to heal

girl in pain in bed

This article was written in collaboration with Monica Gatse of the jeguerisduvaginisme.com blog. It is a personal testimony, a healing path specific to Monica. Note to the reader: there is mention of assaults experienced by the author.

The fear felt at the idea of inserting anything into her vagina.

The impression of having the vagina “padlocked”.

The feeling of having a vagina “too small” to accommodate anything.

The tension that manifests itself every time an object (penis, speculum, menstrual cup, finger) approaches her vagina.

That’s vaginismus. (And no, it has nothing to do with vaginitis!)

I suffered from primary and total vaginismus two years ago and it took almost a year before I took charge of my recovery. Today, I am healed and I want to share with you my healing experience.

What is vaginismus?

If this word is totally unknownto you, know that vaginismus is a sexual disorder that is characterized by the involuntary contraction of the muscles of the perineum* (muscles that surround the vagina) making penetration painful, if not impossible.

*perineum: a set of hammock-shaped muscles that sit between the anus and genitals. Its role is to support the bladder, rectum, anus and vagina.

There are two forms of vaginismus that depend on the time of onset:

  • Primary vaginismus: a form of vaginismus that appears from the beginning of sexual life.
  • Secondary vaginismus: a form of vaginismus that appears after a period during which penetrative sex was satisfactory.

There are also two other forms of vaginismus that depend on intensity:

  • Totalvaginismus:form of vaginismus that occurs when it is impossible to have penetrative sex or to insert anything into the vagina.
  • Situational vaginismus: a form of vaginismus that occurs when there is a blockage in certain situations (for example, during penetrative sex) and not in others (for example, insertion of tampons, pelvic exams).

How do you know if you suffer from vaginismus?

Vaginismus is a sexual disorder that has characteristic symptoms that are:

  • A fear of penetration
  • Involuntary contraction of the perineum
  • Unbearable pain at the time of penetration

hand on the stomach

For most people with vaginismus, penetration can be perceived as a real danger. It is often associated with pain, blood(in the event that there is painful intercourse and/or a painful first time)). It can also be experienced as a real intrusion into intimacy (this may be the case when the person has experienced sexual violence such as sexual assault).

When the fear of penetration manifests itself, the brain will send signals to the vagina,which as aresult, will contract reflexively, thus preventing penetration.

This is where the second symptom comes into play: the reflex contraction of the perineum. The person suffering from vaginismus cannot control this contraction, since it is totally involuntary.

This contractionis very difficult to experience because it causes severe pain at the time of penetration:

“Stabbing”

“Razor blade”

“Feeling like you’re torn from the inside.”

What can trigger vaginismus?

As far as I’m concerned, my vaginismus was triggered by the sexual abuse I suffered during my childhood.. My brain had associated penetration – and more generally, the introduction of objects into my vagina – with intrusion.

On the other hand, the lack of knowledge I had of my gender also played a role; I imagined myself having a vagina “too small” and “too rigid” to accommodate anything. I thought my vagina would “tear” if I tried to insert an object into it. This impression was reinforced during my first time: I had been in a lot of pain and had bled.

It wasn’t until my healing journey that I realized that it was actually the contraction of my vagina that made me feel like it.

Of course, each person has their own story and there are several causes of vaginismus such as:

  • Sex education taboo
  • Genital mutilation
  • Gynaecological and obstetrical violence
  • A painful and/or traumatic birth
  • A toxic romantic relationship
  • Medical causes (such asendometriosis,vulvodynia, vestibulodynia)
  • Hormonal causes (menopause, vaginal atrophy, vaginal dryness, etc…))
  • Infections (mycoses, vaginosis, vaginitis, etc.)

Who can make the diagnosis?

A gynecologist can make the diagnosis of vaginismus, after having ruled out all physical leads (infections,hymen too thick etc …). In France, there is also the possibility of consulting a Liberal midwife,who has the ability to make the diagnosis and carry out gynecological follow-up. This was my case and she showed a lot of gentleness and kindness.

Note. For people living in France, you can find a directory listing all liberal midwives. For people living in Quebec, midwives generally follow up only during pregnancies. It is therefore advisable to turn to a doctor for a diagnosis.

woman wearing boxing gloves

Heal… It’s possible! But how?

Since vaginismus is both a psychological and physical sexual disorder, from my point of view, it is important to take a multidisciplinary and holistic approach.

My Psychological Healing Journey

During my psychological healing process, I consulted the following specialists:

  • A psychologist. The therapy sessions with this psychologist allowed me to:
    • Free myself from emotions related to trauma (sadness, anger, fear…)
    • Transforming my negative view of sexuality
    • Reconciling with the little girl I was at the time of the sexual violence
  • A hypnotherapist. I only did one session with this specialist, but it was very intense and allowed me to:
    • Identify my emotions and welcome them fully
    • “Relive” the trauma in terms of emotions and feelings
    • Accurately describe how I felt at that moment

Note: Hypnotherapy can awaken old traumas. Only see a therapist if you feel like it and feel ready.

  • An expert coach in curing vaginismus. As extraordinary as it may seem, I also managed to cure my vaginismus thanks to specialized support with a therapist coach who herself had suffered from vaginismus in the past. It allowed me to:
    • Have a positive mindset about my healing
    • Getting to know my body and loving it
    • Free myself from the false beliefs I had about sexuality
    • Do practical exercises

She is the creator of a healing method that helps people suffering from vaginismus to get out of it.

My Physical Healing Journey

To treat the physical aspect of vaginismus, I had:

  • Consulted a midwife specialized in perineal rehabilitation,which allowed me to:
    • Becoming aware of the muscles of my vagina
    • Learn to relax them gently
    • Being more in touch with my intimacy through massage

Note: For people residing in Quebec, there are options to turn to a sexologist, a doctor or an osteopath, depending on your personal needs.

  • Used vaginal dilators. These are medical devices that come in many sizes to gently relax the muscles of the perineum.

vaginal dilators

You can get vaginal dilators online. I recommend two brands: Velvi and Vagiwell.

Velvi dilators are made of plastic and Vagiwell dilators are made of silicone. It’s up to you to choose the material that suits you best!

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It was a pleasure for me to write this article. I hope it will allow you to realize that you are not alone in your healing journey!

M️onica.