Vaginismus

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.

My story

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.

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14 Comments

  1. This is strength in its most raw form Kelly ❤️ You are wonderful for sharing your experience and educating many of us (myself included) on a topic so important yet so unspoken about ❤️

    1. Thank you so much! ❤️

  2. This condition is more common than most people might think. I read a lot of stories of women who have left extremely strict religious communities and movements, and plenty of them come out of these groups with this exact problem due to having been told the combination of sex is evil until you’re married and that women’s bodies are made for childbirth (which of course envelops each woman in a shroud of pressure). So much of our sex lives is mental and emotional, and being frightened away from anything sexual or having so much pressure placed on us does terrible things. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with such a painful condition.

    Thank you for sharing your story, for shining a light on what no one should be ashamed to talk about- by doing so, you’re helping to break the stigma, and I’m proud of you. I wish you peace, healing, and the help you need in whatever form that is to have a fabulous sex life one day, because that’s what you deserve. Love to you! <3

    1. Yeah, many of the stories I’ve read about the condition have been about women with strict religious upbringings. It makes a lot of sense considering how they view sex. I was actually in denial about my condition for so long because I thought it only affected women from religious households and I didn’t fit that criteria. It’s a very difficult condition to live with yet I can only imagine how difficult it is for them to go against everything they’ve been taught.

      Thank you so much for your comment. It means so much ❤️

  3. Thank you so, so, so much for talking out about this. I can’t use tampons, screening is agony & sex is a hit or miss for me. I’m so scared of my body not reacting how I want it to, and it hurting, that I’m forever haunted. I’m embarrassed to talk about it too but I’m gradually coming out of it. I’m trying to love myself more and cut myself some slack. Communication with my partner and my nurse when getting a cervical screen is a must too.

    1. I can relate to this on so many levels. Getting my smear tests was horrendous. I’ve never even attempted using tampons because I just know it won’t work. It’s hard when your body doesn’t react how everyone tells you it should. And it is embarrassing. But it shouldn’t be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with us. I’m starting to learn that talking about it helps to normalise it and normalising it helps to accept it. You absolutely deserve to cut yourself some slack and I really hope that you’re able to. Yes, definitely, communication is the most important thing. Thank you so much for your comment – it’s not an easy thing to talk about ❤️

  4. Carrie says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, Kelly. I have vaginismus too and reading your post sums up exactly how I feel.

    I’ve been with my partner for nearly ten years and we’ve had sex only a handful of times, and never for long because it’s too painful – and even those times were after lots of building myself up through dilators etc. When others talk about how great sex is, I just feel so jealous. I’ve kind of resigned myself to the idea I’ll never get to enjoy it, that the most I can hope for is for it to ‘not be too uncomfortable’.

    It’s always been an issue for me. As a teenager I could never put in a tampon because it was too painful. Seen various doctors over the years who’ve been little help. The first I saw pretty much laughed at me and actually got angry when she went to examine me and couldn’t properly because it hurt me too much!

    I’m very fortunate to have an understanding partner but I feel guilty at not being able to have sex with him. We want children in the future – maybe within the next couple of years – and I worry that I won’t be able to endure sex long enough for that to ever happen.

    Thanks again for your post. I’ve always felt so alone with this condition. x

    1. I can really relate to those feelings. I’m not embarrassed or shy talking about sex but whenever anyone mentions it I get quiet because I feel jealous and angry that they can experience it so naturally and effortlessly. I’m so sorry you’ve had that experience with doctors. Medical professionals ought to know better and have a basic level of empathy as a minimum. I’m fortunate that my doctors have been understanding but there’s not much that they can do in terms of treatment and it’s tough. I wish you and your partner all the best and I am so, so glad that this post could help you feel less alone ❤️

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this, Kelly! I’m 21 and I believe I have vaginismus, though I’ve never been to a doctor to have it diagnosed. Penetrative sex is so so painful for me it’s impossible. I don’t know if it’s a physical or psychological issue; I’ve never had problems using tampons, and I do come from a family that has a negative view towards sex. I thought I was past that, but perhaps subconsciously I’m not.

    A lot of the feelings you describe are familiar to me. I know it’s not my fault and not shameful, but I can’t help feeling frustrated, ashamed, and mad at my body whenever I think about it. I’m lucky to have a supportive partner that doesn’t pressure me, but sometimes it seems as if he believes we’ll get past it eventually if we just keep trying. I don’t know how to explain to him how scary it is to try again, not only because of the pain but because every time we fail it makes me feel more like a failure and further from normal.

    I’m also grateful that I live at a time when the stigma around sex-related conditions is starting to lessen. I’d never heard about vaginismus before I first tried to have sex, but since then I have been able to find some information on Google as well as representation in Sex Education. Still, the most comforting thing to me is hearing about other people’s similar experiences, and this is why I’m so thankful for your bravery in sharing this post. It makes me feel less alone.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I would definitely advise seeing your doctor about it if you feel you have vaginismus. While my treatment options are severely limited, you might find there is a treatment available to you that can help. Please don’t suffer alone and in silence.

      I can definitely relate to those feelings. I feel terrified to try again with my partner because I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do it because of the pain. I’m starting to realise that the more I hide away from it the worse it gets. Dilators have worked a lot for me – not enough that it’s not an issue still, but it has lessened the pain and I’m able to use those and not experience as much pain as I used to.

      I’m so glad this post has helped you to feel less alone. I really want you to know that there is nothing shameful about this. You are most certainly not a failure. I wish you all the best ❤️

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this post Kelly, I know it’s something you’ve been debating about posting from reading your tweets and am really proud of you for having the courage to share something so personal.

    It’s great to open the conversation about topics such as this because there’s so many people who have this condition too and are often embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about it because it’s seen as “taboo”, when no one should have to feel that way. I think your post is going to help a lot of people.

    Going to get a little personal here, although I don’t have Vaginismus, I have an inverted cervix (tilted uterus) which means sex can sometimes be painful (especially in certain positions). I can’t use tampons because they don’t sit correctly and hurt, nearly passed out trying to use one before 😂. I also suffer from very painful periods and had to be put on the pill at the age of 13/14. I only recently found out I have an inverted cervix and for a long time I suspected I might have mild vaginismus as there are some similarities.

    I felt like there was something wrong with me and felt embarrassed to talk about it. But the last few years I’ve been more open about it and my experience with getting a diagnosis and it’s been so freeing. I’ve also found out that while it’s not super common, people I know have it too.

    Our bodies aren’t something we should be ashamed of and I think it’s so sad that we feel a pressure, especially as women when it comes to sex. I’m so glad you have an understanding partner and that you’ve opened up this discussion to help others feel more comfortable talking about it too 😊❤️

    1. My gynecologist mentioned I had a tilted uterus during an ultrasound last year but no one ever explained what that was and I never knew that could cause similar symptoms to vaginismus or that it could cause such a severe reaction – that must have been terrifying when you tried using a tampon! That’s really interesting to know and definitely something to explore. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

      That’s exactly the reason I wanted to write this post – the more I’ve spoken about it, the more freeing it is, and the more people have come froward to tell me they have it. Had you not been brave enough to share with me your experience, I might not have ever known about how an inverted cervix can affect the body. Absolutely agree it should not be such a taboo subject. It’s like you said, we feel so much pressure anyway that when our bodies don’t react the way we’re taught they would, it adds extra pressure. The more it’s talked about, hopefully more people will feel less alone.

      Thank you so much, Ash ❤️

  7. Well done on such a well written piece on such a personal story. My wife’s PhD is on vaginsmus and the social aspects with respect to couples and it also looks at how professionals treat people who come looking for help. Many doctors don’t know how to deal with the topic and I some even say “just go have a glass of wine and relax” which is not just disrespectful but also so unprofessional.
    It’s more common than people think and seeking the right help is important. My wife has a website with some resources on it if that helps. It’s http://www.vaginismusresearchireland.com and some excellent resources and services are listed there.

    1. Thank you!

      I have received some comments like that from doctors previously. I have tried everything, including having a couple of drinks to ‘relax’ and it doesn’t help and, as you said, it is extremely unprofessional. While my doctors have been understanding, they are clueless on the topic.

      I’m so glad your wife’s research is focused on vaginismus – I’ve found little academic (and medical) research around the subject. I will definitely be checking out her website. Thank you!

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