This might very well be one of the most – if not the most – difficult blog post I will ever write. And perhaps the most personal. As you’ve seen from the title, I want to discuss vaginismus.
What is vaginismus?
First things first, what is vaginismus? According to the NHS, vaginismus is an automatic, involuntary reaction where the vaginal muscles tighten upon some – or all – types of vaginal penetration – from inserting a tampon, vaginal sex, and cervical screening tests. Vaginismus can be either primary or secondary. Primary vaginismus is when the individual has always been unable to experience pain-free vaginal penetration, whereas secondary vaginismus is when the individual experiences pain during vaginal penetration after previously experiencing pain-free penetration.
Vaginismus can have both physiological or psychological causes. Physiological causes include infections, endometriosis, or cysts. Anxiety is a common psychological cause, including anxiety related to performance, your body, or even a fear that sex is sinful or that your first time will be painful. Traumatic events and experiences are also a contributing factor. You can find out more about the causes here.
The all-important question is can it be treated? Yes. It can be treated and treatment can be extremely effective. Medication, dilators, pelvic floor exercises, and therapy are all valid methods of treatment that have been known to be effective in treating vaginismus. While you’re going to read my story, and my treatment experience has not been positive, just know that it is just my own personal experience and doesn’t mean this is going to happen to you. Vaginismus can be treated and I urge anyone who suspects they have this condition to talk to a doctor and discuss treatment options.
I was diagnosed with vaginismus when I was twenty-one, after experiencing severe pain. Receiving my diagnosis was both cathartic and distressing. Finally, after three years, I had a diagnosis. There was a name for it. When you can place a name on something, it becomes easier to treat – or so you would think.
Despite having a diagnosis, treatment has not been easy for me. I’ve had test after test. Various medications have been thrown at me. I had a couple of sessions with a counsellor. And I even had laparoscopic surgery last year. All to try and find a cause. I’ve had a few other diagnoses in the almost five years since I first was diagnosed with primary vaginismus. Yet none of my doctors have been able to pin-point the exact cause and this is having a significant impact on my ability to receive the correct treatment.
My GP has recommended psychosexual therapy. However, as mental health services are extremely underfunded, this type of therapy is not currently available in my area. This means I either have to somehow find the money to go private (and it’s not cheap in the slightest) or I have to deal with it on my own. So far, it’s been the latter. That being said, through the use of dilators and pelvic floor exercises, I’m making progress on my own – small progress, but progress nonetheless.
How my body reacts to sex makes me feel ashamed and angry
I’ve lived with vaginismus since I was nineteen and I’ve experienced a whole range of emotions – shame, embarrassment, confusion, and anger. Mostly I feel ashamed. For my entire life I’ve been taught that sex is this wonderful, intimate, and natural bodily experience. Sex education classes, the media, and society glamorise sex. As a woman I’ve been told that sex is what makes me desirable, that in order to please a man I must provide him with sex, and that my body is the perfect vessel to carry human life in which sex is the first step. Yet my body doesn’t react the way I’ve been taught it would, in the way that it should. How can I not feel ashamed of my body for betraying me like this?
And I feel angry. At myself. My body. At everyone who doesn’t live with this condition. At my doctors for not being able to help me and the government for not adequately funding mental health services so that I can be helped. I’m angry at how little information there is around this condition and the ignorance that grows from it. I’m angry at the lack of adequate sex education. Maybe if we were all properly educated about what vaginismus is from a young age, I might not be as ashamed of what my body does – or cannot do.
There is nothing shameful about having a sex-related condition
This post was inspired by the Netflix show, Sex Education. I recently watched both seasons and was extremely, yet pleasantly surprised that one of the prominent characters has vaginismus. It was the first time I had ever seen this condition portrayed in media. And it got me thinking about how many of us are living with this condition that most people have never heard of. When I was first diagnosed, there was very little information online about it. Very few people spoke up about their experiences with vaginismus.
Talking about sex and sex-related conditions is still very much a taboo. It’s not that we don’t like or enjoy sex – many of us do. Yet vaginismus can cause you to feel petrified at the thought of having sex. The anxiety it causes is overwhelming. This anxiety turns into shame. It turns inwards and you blame yourself. Not only can it destroy relationships but it can also destroy your self-worth and shatters any respect you may have once had for your body. You feel undesirable, unworthy, and undeserving of being loved. You end up feeling completely and utterly broken. The longer you live with vaginismus, the more self-hatred begins to develop and the less hope you have that you’ll ever be normal. Vaginismus is a recognised medical condition and we are just as deserving of love and respect as anyone else. There is absolutely nothing shameful about having vaginismus. I hope this post helps both me and you accept that.
While I’m fortunate enough to have a loving partner who is supportive and understanding of my condition, it doesn’t make it any easier. Vaginismus is a lonely condition to live with. Shame, fear, and embarrassment stops people from speaking out. This gives the vaginismus-fuelled anxiety power over you. This is why I wanted to share my story and my very incoherent thoughts about vaginismus, especially this week as it’s mental health awareness week. Vaginismus can have a serious impact on our mental health. By speaking out about my own experience with vaginismus, I’m hoping it helps you, if you too have vaginismus, to feel less alone and know there is someone else out there who understands.
I want to stop feeling ashamed and embarrassed and angry. In order to try to overcome this debilitating condition, I need to fight through the shame and anxiety of having a sex-related condition. So, here I am, admitting to you that I have vaginismus – something I haven’t even wanted to admit to myself. Admittance is the first step to acceptance, and with acceptance can come recovery.