Introduction 

Vaginismus is when the muscles around the vagina tighten involuntarily whenever there is an attempt to penetrate it.  

The symptoms can vary from one woman to the next. Some women are unable to insert anything into their vagina because it closes up completely, some women can insert a tampon but are unable to have sex, and others are able to have sex but find it very painful.

Read more about the symptoms of vaginismus.

As vaginismus can disrupt or completely stop your sex life, it often causes distress and relationship problems. It may even prevent you starting a family.

It can also make gynaecological and pelvic examinations difficult or impossible. In some cases, an anaesthetic (painkilling medication) may be needed before a doctor can carry out an examination.

If you've never been able to have sex because of the condition, it's referred to as primary vaginismus. If you've previously been able to have sex but now find it difficult, it's referred to as secondary vaginismus.

What causes vaginismus?

A number of things can cause vaginismus, although it is not fully understood why the condition happens.

For some women, it may be caused by a traumatic past experience, such as a difficult childbirth or sexual abuse. They may associate sexual activity with pain and avoid having intercourse as a way of preventing further pain.

A condition called vestibulodynia is a very common cause of vaginismus. It is thought to be caused by oversensitive nerves at the opening of the vagina, and causes pain or discomfort when penetration is attempted. 

Some women with vestibulodynia also experience pain when using tampons.

Vaginismus can also sometimes be caused by inflammation or an injury to the vagina or vulva.

Read more about the causes of vaginismus.

Treating vaginismus

Vaginismus can be treated. How it is treated will depend on what's causing it.

If there is an obvious physical cause, such as an injury or infection, it can be treated with appropriate medication.

If the cause is psychological, sex therapy may be recommended. A sex therapist can help you to overcome the condition using vaginal trainers and relaxation techniques.

Vaginal trainers are smooth, penis-shaped cones of different sizes that can be used in the privacy of your own home.

Many women also find that counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps.

Read more about treating vaginismus

A healthy sex life

A sexual psychotherapist gives advice on how to have a healthy and fulfilling sexual relationship.

Media last reviewed: 07/01/2013

Next review due: 07/01/2015

Who is affected by vaginismus?

Vaginismus is a fairly common sexual problem. It can be so painful that sex becomes impossible.

Although vaginismus can affect women of any age, it often affects teenage girls and women in their twenties and thirties.

Vagina health

Find out about vaginas, from keeping clean and healthy to what's normal and what's not. Includes changes after childbirth

Page last reviewed: 16/01/2013

Next review due: 16/01/2015