A Tad Too Tight - Vaginismus
I will always vividly remember the way the gynecologist tried to make eye contact while trying to do the internal exam to place my IUD.
“Are you in school currently?” He said conversationally, while I alternated between trying not to swear in his face or cry. I was probably an interesting shade of red. I was definitely tense as a board.
Then he tried to use a speculum, and that would be when I almost booted a medical professional in the face.
Hey, I’m Molly. And I have vaginismus.
Broadly speaking, vaginismus is a disorder in which your inner pelvic floor contracts involuntarily, and so strongly, that penetration is either very difficult or impossible. It often has a connection to anxiety, which I have, and sometimes has a relation to sexual trauma, which I do not have. Attempts at penetration, either sexual or otherwise, often can’t be completed, and are usually extraordinary painful.
I’ve known there’s been something different since I was sixteen and trying to use a tampon, but I’ve only had a name for what I’ve had for about two years. That would be because, as is often the case with women’s sexual health, this is not a disorder that is often talked about. Actually, some people don’t even believe it’s real.
Usually what I say to those people is that my vagina is not like the Easter bunny.
The frustration with the fact that people don’t talk about this condition is that it’s actually very common – figures are between 6%-20% of people with vaginas experience it – but because it’s not talked about, not only is painful sex normalized and sufferers are isolated, but treatment is also not discussed. And I would like to underline this: treatment is very much a possibility. Painful sex is not normal, and it does not have to be part of your life. You have a right to pleasurable sex.
Treatment typically involves things like vaginal dilators, such as the ones pictured below. Other treatments also involve Kegel exercises, and sometimes counselling for anxiety or trauma related to sex. It depends on the person and their particular case. The amount of time it takes to treat it also depends on the person, and the degree of vaginismus they have. I’ve been working on it off and on (because of insurance things, as well as other factors) for about a year, and I’m just over halfway done. I tend to be on the “severe” side of the spectrum, if this helps give context.
I like to say that vaginismus has given me some surprising benefits. For one, I’ve yet to have particularly bad sex – knowing that it could be painful, by the time I started having sex, I was pretty good at advocating for what I wanted and what I didn’t want. It also encouraged me to explore my sexuality – I realized I was actually bisexual. Similarly, I’ve also yet to have a pregnancy scare, and I save a bundle on birth control. Looking at it this way helps me reframe a potentially bad way to view my body, and take a positive light when I’m frustrated.
If painful sex is something you deal with, you’re not broken, and you’re not alone. There are people out there that know what you’re going through, and definitely want to help. Finding resources can sometimes be tricky – I’ve noticed that the more well-known resources tend to be pretty heteronormative, cis-normative, and focused on reproduction rather than sexual pleasure or physical comfort – but there is definitely information and a community out there. This website is where I got started: https://www.healthline.com/health/vaginismus. I’ve also found a great community on social media like Tumblr. Talking to a doctor or a gynecologist can help you find resources and treatment. You’re also more than welcome to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learned so far and offer any advice I have.
Thanks for listening, folks.