Vaginismus: What it is and how to heal

girl in pain in bed

This article was written in collaboration with Monica Gatse, author of the blog jeguerisduvaginisme.com. It’s a personal story, a pathway to healing specific to her. Trigger warning: Monica mentions sexual assaults she experienced as a child.

The fear of inserting anything into your vagina.

The impression that your vagina is “padlocked.”

The notion that your vagina is “too small” to accommodate anything.

The tension you feel every time something gets near your vagina, whether that’s a penis, speculum, menstrual cup, or finger.

That’s vaginismus. And no, it’s got nothing to do with vaginitis!

Two years ago, I suffered from primary and total vaginismus, and it took almost a year for me to take charge of my recovery. Today, I’m better, and I want to share my healing experience with you.

What’s vaginismus?

In case you’ve never heard of it, vaginismus is a sexual disorder characterized by the involuntary contraction of muscles in your perineum* (the muscles that surround your vagina),making penetration painful if not impossible.

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

There are two types of vaginismus you can get related to the timing of its onset.

  • Primary vaginismus coincides with the start of your sex life.
  • Secondary vaginismus occurs after a period of unsatisfying penetrative sex.

There are also two types of vaginismus that relate to intensity.

  • Total vaginismus occurs when it’s impossible to have penetrative sex or insert anything in your vagina.
  • Situational vaginismus occurs when there’s a blockage in certain situations, like during penetrative sex, but not in others, like when you insert tampons or get a pelvic exam.

How can you tell if you’re suffering from vaginismus?

Vaginismus is a sexual disorder with symptoms that include:

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

hand on the stomach

For most people with vaginismus, penetration can be perceived as a real danger. If you’ve ever experienced painful intercourse or you had a painful first time,you might associate penetration with pain and blood.). You might also see it as a major disruption of intimacy. (This can be the case for people who’ve experienced sexual violence.).

When you experience a fear of penetration, your brain sends signals to your vagina telling it to contract, which prevents the penetration.

This is where the second symptom comes into play: the reflexive contraction of your perineum, which is totally involuntary. You can’t control it.

Contractions like that are really hard to go through because they make penetration extremely painful.

You might feel like you’re being stabbed.

You might feel like you’re being attacked with a razor blade.

And you might feel like you’re being torn apart from the inside.

What can trigger vaginismus?

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

On the other hand, my lack of knowledge about my gender also played a role; I imagined that my vagina was “too small” and “too rigid” to accommodate anything. I thought it would “tear” if I tried to insert anything inside of it. That impression was reinforced the first time I had sex: I was in a lot of pain and I bled.

It wasn’t until I embarked on my healing journey that I realized that what I was feeling was actually the contraction of my vagina.

Of course, everyone is unique, and there are several causes of vaginismus, including:

  • Inadequate sex education
  • Genital mutilation
  • Gynecological and obstetrical violence
  • A painful and/or traumatic birth
  • A toxic romantic relationship
  • Medical causes (likeendometriosis,vulvodynia, vestibulodynia)
  • Hormonal causes (like menopause, vaginal atrophy, and vaginal dryness)
  • Infections (like mycoses, vaginosis, and vaginitis)

Who can make the diagnosis?

A gynecologist can make the diagnosis after having ruled out all physical alternatives, like infections or ahymen that’s too thick. . In France, there’s also the possibility of consulting a liberal midwifewho can make the diagnosis and carry out gynecological follow ups. That’s what I did, and my midwife was very gentle and kind.

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. Given that, you’ll probably want to go to a doctor for a diagnosis.

woman wearing boxing gloves

Recovery…It’s possible! But how?

Because vaginismus is both a psychological and physical sexual disorder, I think it’simportant to take a multidisciplinary and holistic approach.

My psychological healing journey

During my psychological healing process, I consulted a few different specialists, including

  • A psychologist. My therapy sessions allowed me to
    • Free myself from emotions related to trauma, like sadness, anger, and fear
    • Transform my negative view of sexuality
    • Reconcile with the little girl I was at the time of the sexual violence I experienced
  • 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 you’re ready.

  • An expert coach in curing vaginismus. As extraordinary as it may seem, I also managed to cure my vaginismus by drawing on the specialized support of a therapist coach who had herself once suffered from vaginismus. Talking with her allowed me to
    • Develop a positive mindset about my healing
    • Get to know and love my body
    • Free myself from the false beliefs I had about sexuality
    • Do practical exercises

My coach is the creator of a healing method that helps people suffering from vaginismus recover.

My physical healing journey

To treat the physical aspect of vaginismus, I

  • Consulted a midwife who specialized in perineal rehabilitation,which allowed me to
    • Become aware of my vagina’s muscles
    • Learn to gently relax them
    • Explore massage to get more in touch with being intimate

Note: People living in Quebec can turn to a sexologist, a doctor, or an osteopath, depending on their personal needs.

  • Used vaginal dilators. These are medical devices that come in all kinds of sizes and can be used 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 helps your realize that you’re not alone in your healing journey!

M️onica.