For years, doctors have struggled to find the root cause of the syndrome. However, research has discovered vaginismus may be caused by physical stress, emotional stress, or both. Vaginismus may also be anticipatory, meaning pelvic spasms happen because the person expects the trigger. Emotional stressors include traumatic life events, relationship problems, anxiety, and fear of pregnancy. Physical stressors like UTIs and yeast infections are quite common. Other reasons include childbirth, menopause, surgery, or insufficient vaginal lubrication during sex. Pelvic pain from vaginismus can even happen as a side effect of medications.
Primary vs secondary vaginismus
Pelvic pain from vaginismus manifests in 2 ways. Primary vaginismus is a lifetime condition where vaginal penetration has always been difficult. On the other hand, secondary vaginismus is when the condition occurs at a particular stage of life. Trauma, infection, surgery, or radiation are common triggers. Menopause can also cause vaginismus. Estrogen levels drop, resulting in a lack of vaginal lubrication and elasticity.
Look for these signs
The primary sign of vaginismus is the uncontrolled tightening of the vaginal muscles and pelvic floor. Mild to severe pain, along with burning sensations, are common. Intercourse may be painful, difficult, or impossible. Some women may even stop breathing. Other symptoms also include fear of vaginal sex and lowered sexual desire from penetration.
Get emotional and educational support
Rest assured, vaginismus and the associated pelvic pain are treatable. However, treatment requires patience, understanding, and time. The first step is to find the source of the syndrome. Then all parties involved can take the right steps. For starters, counseling and education on triggers may lessen the automatic tightening of the muscles. Education also helps with understanding what happens to the body during sex, which may help symptoms.
Turning to exercise
If the issue is an emotional stressor, emotional exercises can help identify and process those triggers. A medical professional or therapist can teach exercises to process issues related to relationships or past trauma. Physical exercises in the form of pelvic floor exercises may help. Kegels and other forms of exercise strengthen the pubococcygeus muscle or PC muscle. This muscle supports the pelvic organs, including the vagina. Stronger PC muscles help relax and control pelvic floor spasms. In both cases, results are not immediate. However, consistent work will bring results.
Living with vaginismus? There is hope
Vaginismus can be confusing, frustrating, and painful. On an emotional level, no woman wants to live with the condition. Most women with vaginismus want to experience penetration with a partner or have no issues using tampons. However, pelvic pain and spasms make this challenging for some. Remember that there’s nothing to be ashamed of and treatment takes time. Talk with a doctor, gynecologist, or therapist. These specialists are here to help women reclaim a better quality of life.