Factsheet: Vaginismus

When intercourse is perceived as upsetting, painful or frightening a woman's vaginal muscles can tighten making penetration impossible.

Factsheet: Vaginismus

Aside from the physical effects of the condition, the emotional effects can be destructive: sufferers frequently panic and feel anxious, while partners feel frustrated and rejected.

What is it?

Vaginismus is a condition where the vagina instantaneously and involuntarily tightens, rendering intercourse difficult or impossible. It is not uncommon and may occur later in life, in spite of a previously healthy sex life.

What are the symptoms of vaginismus?

The symptoms include:

-Involuntary spasm of the muscles in the vagina,

  • Fear of pain or real pain,

  • Intense fear of penetration,

  • Loss of sexual desire if penetration is attempted

  • Pain if penetrated by a tampon, finger or penis

What causes vaginismus?

Traumatic sexual assaults, painful intercourse or traumatic pelvic examinations are common causes, as are strong inhibitions about sex stemming from strict religious orthodoxy or cultural norms. That is not to say that sufferers are frigid: many are sexually responsive and orgasm through clitoral stimulation as long as actual penetration is avoided.

Sometimes it occurs following a vaginal infection or the physical after-effects of childbirth, tiredness or some other cause.

How can it be treated?

A psychosexual therapist will advise a therapy program where the patient undertakes vaginal dilation exercises and becomes progressively more intimate with her partner. A successful conclusion of the program is pain-free intercourse. Sex education is also very important to counter sexual naivety and dispel any misinformation (a factor in 90% of vaginismus cases). This education should include information about sexual anatomy, physiology, the sexual response cycle, and common myths about sex.

What are the emotional effects of vaginismus?

When a couple's sex life is disrupted or stopped altogether, it's understandable that distress and relationship problems occur. Vaginismus arouses strong emotions so the support and love of a partner are essential in treating the condition.