A Closer Look: Vaginismus

Posted On: September 5, 2011


Women who frequently experience vaginal discomfort during intercourse, such as pain and burning sensations, are probably suffering from the condition known as Vaginismus (pronounced vaj-uh-niz-muhs). Vaginismus is the result of involuntary tightening of the vaginal walls, making penetration during intercourse difficult or even impossible. This is usually manifested by the following symptoms:

  • Pain due to tightening of the vagina during intercourse
  • Painful sensation during insertion of the penis/ failure to achieve penile penetration due to pain
  • Difficulty having a gynecological exam involving the vagina performed
  • Sexual pain and discomforts after giving birth or undergoing a surgical procedure involving the female reproductive system
  • Troubled relationship between partners
  • Lack of interest to engage in sex due to pain

The Causes of Vaginismus

Vaginismus can either be due to psychological or physical causes.

Psychological causes – almost 90% of women suffering from Vaginismus have one or more of the following psychological issues:

  • Fear of getting pregnant 
  • Anticipating intercourse as a painful act 
  • Performance anxiety related to intercourse 
  • Traumatic sexual experiences in the past 
  • Childhood memories of sexual abuse 
  • Poor emotional attachment between partners 
  • Lack of knowledge regarding sex 

Physical causes – 10% of Vaginismus in women is due to the following physical causes:

  • Infections involving the female reproductive system 
  • Difficult normal vaginal deliveries; complicated c-sections 
  • Physical, sexual abuse, harassment, or rape 
  • Hormonal imbalance resulting to vaginal dryness 
  • Increasing age (menopausal stage) resulting to poor vaginal lubrication 
  • Pelvic pain from trauma or previous surgery 

Common Misconceptions on Vaginismus

A woman with one or more of the above symptoms probably has Vaginismus. But, it is also important to know some myths regarding this female health condition to clarify what is and is not Vaginismus. Here are some of the common misconceptions: 

  • A woman with a small vagina is more likely to suffer from Vaginismus during intercourse. Wrong. Normally, the vagina is flexible enough to expand and accommodate a penis that is fully erect. However, involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles lead to painful intercourse.
  • Vaginismus occurs only during intercourse. False. Vaginismus may occur even before penile penetration happens, making intercourse difficult or even impossible. 
  • An intact hymen is the reason why a woman may suffer from Vaginismus. Not true. The involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles happens subconsciously and is not due to the presence or absence of a hymen.
  • A woman who has already given birth may not suffer from Vaginismus. Wrong. Remember that there are cases of mothers who after vaginal delivery started to experience Vaginismus due to a painful or traumatic experience during the birth process.   
  • Vaginismus is more common in single than married women. Not true. A woman’s civil status has nothing to do with Vaginismus. It may occur to both single and married women. 
  • Vaginismus is just a condition that goes away on its own without the need for any intervention. False. A woman suffering from Vaginismus needs to seek assistance from people who are experts in the field of treating the problem. The earlier she seeks help, the higher the chances of having pain-free intercourse.

This article first appeared on Vaginismus.com.sg, a micro site belonging to Underneath The Moon.

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Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Underneath The Moon. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. For more, visit www.underneaththemoon.com or email drmarthalee@underneaththemoon.com.

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