For far too many of us, we were taught that pain during sex is “normal.” That we should just ignore it. That our pleasure isn’t important. While there are many places discomfort in sex can stem from, a common yet not-so-talked about cause is vaginismus.
UY, THAT SOUNDS BAD. WHAT IS IT?
Vaginismus occurs in somewhere between 5-17% of people with vaginas and is a condition in which the vaginal muscles contract, causing penetration to be impossible or extremely painful. That tightness can in part, be blamed on the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle group (part of the pelvic floor muscles)– though it might not feel like the source of the pain during sex.
When the vagina is very tight, it can create a slew of unpleasant symptoms, including burning, pain, difficult or impossible penetration, entry pain, uncomfortable insertion of penis/sex toy, or total inability to have intercourse. #nofun. So contrary to popular belief, tight vaginas =/= (do not equal) good sex.
SO WHAT CAUSES THE TIGHTNESS TO OCCUR IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Tbh, there is no one cause of this. For some, penetration may have always been problematic- tampons and pap smears were always nearly impossible. And for others, penetration was possible at one point, but is no longer due to a specific event, trauma or circumstance.
For many, vaginismus can come as a surprise, usually during attempted penetrative sex. Because it is so uncomfortable (and we can’t plan for whether it will happen or not), anticipating the pain causes the body to further tighten the vaginal muscles, bracing itself against harm. Penetration then becomes uncomfortable or painful, and entry may be more difficult or impossible depending upon the severity of this tightened state.
With attempts at vaginal penetration, any resulting discomfort further reinforces the reflex response so that it intensifies more. The body experiences increased pain and reacts by bracing more on an ongoing basis, further entrenching this response and creating a vaginismus cycle of pain.
WHO IS LIKELY TO HAVE IT?
Vaginismus can affect people at any age or level of sexual experience and can even show up after years of pain-free penetration. Sexual trauma, childbirth, domestic violence, and anxiety are a few factors that have been linked with vaginismus, but again, there is no one cause so if you are experiencing painful sex, find support and break the cycle. You have options!
HOW CAN I BREAK THE CYCLE?
First, you have to recognize that you don’t have to grin and bear it through painful penetration!
Here are some examples of potential support:
- Therapy and talking about psychological barriers to relaxing during sex
- Mindfulness techniques
- Working with a pelvic floor specialist
- Vaginal trainers (These trainers can take many forms, but often look either like a tampon or dildo. The trainers usually come in a set of varying sizes and you begin with the smallest to slowly retrain those muscle groups to accept the object.) It is reco’d that you work with a pelvic floor specialist in conjunction with these trainers
- Believe it or not, potentially Botox.
It may take time, but more enjoyable penetration is possible with some help!
Written By: Steph Black
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