Vaginismus – What’s That?

Let’s talk about sex, baby! Let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about – how it can be much harder than slipping on a sexy song, ensuring you have protection and finding a discreet place where intruders won’t surprise you, than people like to acknowledge. Vaginismus. This may not be a term many people have heard due to the stigma and lack of research around it, despite it being a very common issue.

Why does vaginismus happen?

Vaginismus occurs when the pelvic and vaginal walls involuntarily close up so that it becomes impenetrable. There are many reasons for this such as previous sexual trauma experienced, growing up with feelings of shame and stigma around sex, being scared of the pain or risk of pregnancy or STI’s, yeast infections can exacerbate it and sometimes we may not even be aware of the reason, which can make it more difficult to get help. It can even occur if you were once sexually active with no problems as you can potentially develop it.

Does it really matter?

Besides not being able to have a typical heteronormative sex life as penetration would be nigh on impossible, it may also hinder fingers penetration which could further impact a heteronormative or heterosexual sex life. It also means you might be resigned to only using pads and not being able to swim on your period as your vagina can clamp up if you try to insert a tampon. It can also close up during a health check-up if a vaginal swab is needed for a medical test. It’s an incredibly powerful involuntary reaction and it happened to me during a visit to the gynaecologist. All of these things will also affect your mental health, so it matters greatly that people discuss it more openly and more research and understanding around it can be developed.

How does it feel?

It can be frustrating when you’re with a partner or someone you would like to have sex with. It may feel like an impenetrable wall for them and disappointing for you because it is hard to know what to do and we may feel as if we’re the only ones. I myself suffer from it and the first time I realised, I felt like I had somehow failed as a woman, despite my partner reassuring me. I remember having cried into a pillow because I just wanted my nether regions to listen to my conscious brain and work. I didn’t have a name for it then which made me feel more exasperated and alone, until I had googled it. Subsequently a gynaecologist had diagnosed it, which provided some comfort as I knew I wasn’t the only one.

The stigma

I was lucky to have had an Indian lady who knew all too well of the stigma that would have no doubt impacted the reason I was in front of her. Sex is not freely discussed in our community and even though I have worked as a sexual wellbeing volunteer, and pride myself in not caring what others think, the shame around the topic can be so deeply ingrained that you don’t realise it. When I was able to speak to this gynaecologist, I broke down crying as it felt like a significant moment just being able to address it with an older brown woman. I even had to hide the reason for my appointments with her as I couldn’t let my family know and even though I am posting this now, they still don’t know, because I fear a back lash from them. I have been lucky to discuss it with close friends and partners, but normalising just the acknowledgment of south Asian girls being intimate, has a long way to go.

What can be done to overcome vaginismus?

If you find yourself in this common but rarely spoken about situation, even after your partner has tried all of the amazing foreplay in the world and can barely get a finger in you, let alone anything else, book an appointment with your GP. They are non-judgmental and can refer you to the relevant people, which may include a gynaecologist, therapist or someone else they feel that may be able to help. You may even be told to purchase vaginal dilators which aid your canal into opening up such as these. In England, NHS guidelines state you will receive psychotherapy only if you have a partner which may not help in your individual circumstances, but even a gynaecologist can provide some emotional support. So don’t wait any longer, women’s rights to enjoy the pleasure of sex has waited decades already so if you are finding yourself in this position, speak to a GP so you and your partner can enjoy comfortable, stigma-free penetration.

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