Do you have vaginismus?
What exactly is vaginismus? Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles in the pelvic floor specifically around the vagina involuntarily contract and tense up with any kind of attempted penetration. Some people with vaginismus cannot tolerate or experience any penetration of any kind, while others can experience penetration associated with severe pain. Symptoms typically include pain with penetrative intercourse, pain with insertion of a tampon, pain with gynecological examination, burning around the vagina and/ or pressure in the vagina.
Though the recorded prevalence of vaginismus is only around 6% of people, it is speculated to be much higher due to most individuals’ fear or shame around discussing the symptoms with their healthcare provider. It is a condition that is thought to be relatively common, though definitely not normal.
Many have told their gynecologists about their symptoms and have been met with responses like, "Use more lube" or "Drink a glass of wine and relax" before sex.
If you have been experiencing these symptoms, you may be wondering why you haven't been diagnosed yet, or why you haven't been provided with information related to treatment. Most of our patients have had this experience. Many have told their gynecologists about their symptoms and have been met with responses like, "Use more lube" or "Drink a glass of wine and relax" before sex. We have had patients who have experienced frustration from their providers when they were unable to tolerate a vaginal exam. This is not uncommon. Unfortunately, when women experience pain their symptoms are often brushed off and dismissed, even by their female providers. As a result, people don't get the diagnosis or treatment support they need to overcome their pain and symptoms to optimize their health.
The great news is that vaginismus is super treatable. For people who have vaginismus that is more fear or anxiety driven, sex therapy can be an effective method of treatment. Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy that usually involves education around anatomy and discussing any feelings someone may have about their body, sex life or sex in general.
Pelvic floor physical therapy has been found to be a wonderful method of treatment with a very high success rate (up to 90%!) for vaginismus.
Pelvic floor PT for vaginismus can involve things like:
1. Desensitization/ dilation techniques
Your PFPT can walk you through how to perform manual techniques or use a dilator to get you more comfortable with touching and pressure to the area, the goal being to eventually not experience any pain or symptoms with progressive penetration.
2. Relaxation techniques
There are different ways to assess and then address an overactive nervous system, which can result in heightened pain perception and increased anxiety around pain. Your PT can help you identify and implement some ways to regulate things if this is the case.
3. Breathing exercises and stretches
Since the pelvic floor is so central to the body, different hip and back stretches or mobility exercises can help to lengthen the muscles and reduce muscle tension which can in turn increase blood flow to the area and reduce pain. Breathing techniques can also be used to lengthen and relax the abdomen and then by proxy the pelvic floor muscles.
4. Pelvic floor exercises
Performing pelvic floor exercises helps increase awareness and connection with this part of the body, increases blood flow and improves resting muscle tone. Your PT can teach you how to correctly and effectively do these exercises to get you more comfortable with your pelvic floor.
Vaginismus can be scary and painful to deal with, but is absolutely something that can be treated and completely resolved. Everyone deserves to be their happiest and most confident self and live their best life, and we are here to help you do that :)