Did you know that there are women who experience pain constantly in regards to their vagina? They may be unable or have a difficult time using tampons and menstrual cups. It may even be excruciatingly painful or impossible for them to have penetrative sex or penetrative foreplay with fingers. If you have been struggling and confused, know that you may have vaginismus. This disorder has a serious impact on many women’s lives, and is rarely talked about. It’s nothing to feel ashamed of, and we’re here to hopefully shed some light on this little known and spoken about topic.
So what exactly is vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a medical condition that makes the muscles in and surrounding the vagina to tighten involuntarily. This can make any form of penetration extremely uncomfortable, difficult, and painful. Vaginismus is also known as GPDD, or Genito-Pelvic Pain or Penetration Disorder. It also goes by Sexual Pain Disorder. So with so many names for this problem, why isn’t it talked about often?
It’s estimated that around fifteen percent of women in North America have consistent pain and difficulty with having sexual intercourse. Because many women never speak about it with their doctors, the exact number of cases is still unknown.
Some women with vaginismus have no problems using tampons, and only pain with penetrative sex. Some women are unable to penetrate their vagina with anything at all, sexual or otherwise. This can make having a healthy relationship very difficult, as sex is something that we think of as a normal, exciting thing to do in a relationship. Just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it is impossible though!
GPDD or vaginismus is typically diagnosed when someone is in their adulthood, but can also be seen occurring around the time someone is about to experience or is experiencing menopause. Your body changes often, and these changes can affect you everywhere.
What causes vaginismus or GPDD?
Surprisingly, vaginismus is something that occurs when you have a diresgulation in your limbic system. The limbic system is the structure in your brain that controls and regulates memories, emotion, and motivation. Essentially, with GPDD or vaginismus, your limbic system reacts negatively to the thought or idea of penetration by tightening the vaginal muscles. This happens involuntarily, and is thought to be something that happens to protect your body from harm or pain being inflicted upon you. So while some may say it’s all in your head, the emotional consequences, fear, and pain are very real for those who are going through this.
What are the symptoms of GPDD/Vaginismus?
Symptoms do tend to vary slightly from person to person, as every body is different, but there are some common shared symptoms typically. These include painful intercourse, a lack of drive or desire to have sex, pain when experienciing penetration or intercourse, fear and anxiety when trying to have sexual relations, and extremely tensed muscles during the act or attempt of penetration.
How do you go about diagnosing vaginismus?
Since the symptoms are pretty straightforward, a diagnosis tends to be relatively easy. If you are experiencing these symptoms for more than six months, typically your doctor can diagnose you clinically with vaginismus. Additionally, if you are a woman going in for a pap smear or a pelvic exam, your doctor may notice this issue before you even do, since this typically involves penetration. Don’t feel ashamed if you’ve noticed these on your own as well – diagnosing vaginismus does not mean there is something wrong with you.
While diagnosing vaginismus or GPDD is pretty straightforward, treatment itself is not always as simple and easy. Every person has a different level and reactor that triggers them, and treating people is an individual attempt, not a one-size-fits-all. Your doctor will ask you about mental stability and feelings, including whether you have been raped or have experienced domestic violence, as these things can help spur the onset of this issue. Medications or other medical issues could also be the cause. Additionally, they may want you to see a psychologist. This is to help you overcome any fears that may be triggering this physical response. Some religious attitudes towards sex can spur this onset fear of intercourse that triggers this physical response.
Endometriosis and vaginal infections can also lead to vaginismus or GPDD, and having just given birth. There are so many factors that contribute to this medical condition. Vaginismus is something that you may have always suffered with, or sporadically acquired recently.
Methods for treating vaginismus.
Since vaginismus has body and mind connections, this isn’t a one time doctors visit. It can take many forms of treatment to help find a relief and fix for this, and treatment varies again based on the triggers and causes of vaginismus.
If vaginismus occurs after pregnancy or birth, often times you may be referred to do physical therapy for your pelvic floor, and be told to wait it out for now. Your body will still be healing from this traumatic event, and needs patience. Not everyone can just jump back in to the sack after having a baby!
You may also be referred to a body worker who specializes in sexological body work. Often times, these practices involve using internal massage in the affected area, education, and lots of communication! This helps you heal and overcome your fears both physically and emotionally.
If your GPDD or vaginismus is occurring because of endometriosis, surgery or treatment of this underlying condition may actually help provide relief. Though this seems extreme, getting surgery to take care of another condition may be the only option. Plus, you should always take care of these problems!
There are also kits called vaginal dilators that may be recommended. These kits include different sized wands that help you increase the level of comfort you have with penetration from various sizes.
Regardless of what the cause is, vaginismus is something that can truly affect you emotionally, so seeing a psychologist during this time is something we definitely recommend. This can also help you move past and address any issues if rape or abuse is one of the reasons. Plus, mental health is a huge key to your wellbeing both sexually, physically, and emotionally.
Having sex with vaginismus.
Since penetration can be nearly impossible, you may find yourself pushed away from sexual relations, or even romantic relations. It’s important to recognize that this isn’t your fault, and there is nothing wrong with you. If you do have a partner, include them in your healing process so that they can understand what you are going through. Couples therapists or sexual therapists will help you build a bond that’s stronger, and help you find solutions to navigating the healing process together. They can even help you find ways to be physically intimate without penetration, which can be a huge relationship helper if you have been struggling with this aspect.