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

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

Page last reviewed: 16/01/2013

Next review due: 16/01/2015


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Beenthere said on 27 July 2014

I suffered from vaginismus for so long it became emotionally heartbreaking and the use of many different manufacturers dilators was to no avail. The only thing I could use that gave real benefit was a "vaginal acceptance trainer" because this dealt with the problem at the source and required no effort by me which mattered a lot because I was already a wreck. I had the support of the company I bought it from and really noticed a different type of care and support compared to that with faceless dilators. I am now expecting a baby after a new sex life and am ever so grateful for being able to wave and remove myself from the over strained NHS. I know of 4 other women who after knowing what I had suffered from and how I was able to get a result also went down the vaginal acceptance trainer route and have now been able to go for a smear appt where before they ignored them. We need a new approach to treating vaginismus because the benefit I got from a vaginal acceptance trainer has been priceless for me and I am sure for the NHS with regards to any opportunity in getting women to screening amongst other things. It's time to open our eyes and spot the benefits new products can bring because progress is a wonderful thing because I am proof that we need to think outside the box or we stagnate. I needed help and got it thanks to the benefit of progress.

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Georgie40 said on 12 January 2014

I was in my early 30s with a long term loving partner and had vaginismus. I was something that happened gradually - first of all it happened occassionally, then more regularly, and then I was avoiding sex all the time because it was painful. I knew I was stressed out and over-worked with my job, but I couldn't believe that stress could be the only reason why this was happening. I was convinced that there must be something more specific wrong with me, like endometriosis.

Eventually I went to the doctor who sent me to the gynecologst to test for what was wrong. At the examiniation I started crying because it was painful, but the gynaecologist said he couldn't understand why I was so upset as apparently this wasn't normal! He put me down for an operation to check for endometriosis as he said he didn't know what else it could be to cause painful sex.

Luckily for me I did some more interenet research and cancelled the operation. I went back to a differerent doctor who suggested I needed to address the pschological side of sex. I tried vaginal dilators. I also looked at the stress and relationship. I talked alot with my partner, bought books and tried counselling. I was surprised how much the mind can effect this.

Everything is back to normal again now and I am so happy and grateful to the second doctor as I thought that it might be the end of the relationship at one stage.

I wish that this was something that was more easily talked about, and accepted as an important medical condition that many women experience.

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l2003 said on 25 April 2013

having suffered for years, tried diallaters and were painful and didn't work, tried another product which did but I cant mention it, tried before - to help - but was taken down as I mentioned the product name, thus help denied to people. All I can now say is : Vaginal Acceptance Trainer. It worked for me and I have now had smears - what else can I say other than I think my comment is important. Not advertising am trying to help and even sae a life because I think my comment/experience is important as in the products called : Vaginal Aceeptance Trainer available in the UK privately.

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