For most people, inserting a tampon is a mundane experience. Enjoying fingering or having penetrative sex are, well, not mundane but at least non-stressful experiences. But if you have vaginismus, that just isn’t the case.
We’ve talked about discomfort during sexual stimulation before in our clitoral atrophy article. Pain specifically with penetration can be caused by an STI, or a lack of adequate lubrication. But when those aren’t the culprit, it’s time to take a look at vaginismus.
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a spasm that causes the muscles around the vagina to contract, making penetration from a tampon, finger or speculum during a PAP smear painful and/or impossible.
Some people discover this discomfort when they first get their periods, but others might have it develop later in life. Statistics around how many people have vaginismus are unclear. Many aren’t comfortable talking about pain associated with sex—and due to a lack of accurate sexual education, a distressing amount of people think that pain during sex is normal.
Pain during insertion isn’t typical, and while doctors aren’t exactly sure about the causes of vaginismus, it is believed to be psychologically linked. It can have roots in past sexual abuse, or be caused by deep-seated fear, shame or anxiety about sex.
How is Vaginismus Treated?
In the 1970s, Masters & Johnson created a treatment plan for people with vaginismus. (If you don’t know these very famous sex researchers, definitely read up—or check out the fictionalized TV show about them!). M & J suggested couple-focused sexual counselling as well as the use of graduated dilators. These sort of look like little tubes that start small and gradually get larger, so your body can get slowly used to having something inside it.
Today, a similar method is still used, though more and more it is paired Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In terms of what’s best for you, ask your gynaecologist if they can recommend someone who specializes in sex-related therapy.
Does Having Vaginismus Mean I Can’t Have a Sex Life?
Treating vaginismus isn’t a case of working your way through a dilator set over a month and calling it a day. It might take a while! And, it’s important to remember that while a lot of vaginismus treatment might put ‘sex with a penis’ as the end goal, it’s fine if that’s not what you want to work toward!
What’s more, you aren’t cut off from pleasure even if penetration stays off the table. Our pal the clitoris has plenty of pleasing power! You can use an external stimulation toy like Obii which is not only cute and completely non-threatening, it offers two types of stimulation. It’s ‘sucker’ focuses sensation on your clitoris that can absolutely bring you to orgasm, while its squishy body has lovely ridges and vibrations you can enjoy all over your vulva. (If you need more inspo for enjoying non-penetrative pleasure alone or with a partner, just check out these steamy movie scenes!)
Every body is a bit different, and the impact that pain with penetration has might be different. You can absolutely have a fulfilling relationship with pleasure without penetration if that’s what is right for you!