Vaginismus: When Sex is More Pain than Pleasure

Vaginismus: When Sex is More Pain than Pleasure

Vaginismus is an involuntary tensing of the muscles surrounding the vaginal opening preventing anything from penetrating it. A woman with vaginismus doesn’t control this muscle tensing; it’s an involuntary pelvic response to anything attempting to penetrate the vagina. And for some women it can make sex extremely painful or even impossible.

There are two types of vaginismus: primary and secondary. Primary vaginismus occurs in women the very first time they try to have penetrative sex and on any subsequent occasion they attempt it, while secondary vaginismus occurs suddenly in women who have never previously had any problems with penetration.

As well as penetrative sex being a problem, which understandably can be detrimental to a woman’s sexual relationship, vaginismus can also make gynecological and pelvic examinations very difficult. If this is so, a woman may require anesthesia before she can be examined by a doctor.

There are degrees of severity of vaginismus ranging from the inability to insert anything at all into the vagina, to being able to insert a penis, but with accompanying pain and tightness which prevents a woman from enjoying sex. In addition, some women experience the problem off and on for a number of years. They have to constantly be on guard to control and relax their muscles in order to have penetrative sex when they recognize the symptoms of vaginismus occurring.


While the primary symptom of vaginismus is the difficulty to insert anything in the vagina, other symptoms may include burning or stinging pain in the vagina if it’s penetrated by a tampon, finger, or penis; and an intense fear of penetration, which can lead to avoidance of sex resulting in disastrous consequences for a woman’s intimate relationship. However, there’s nothing a woman suffering from vaginismus can do to prevent her vaginal muscles from tensing up; it’s an involuntary protective reaction to the expectation of penetration.

Although this condition can put a huge strain on a woman’s relationship, it’s wrong to assume that women who suffer with vaginismus can’t enjoy sex. A woman with vaginismus can still share sexual pleasure with her partner. She can enjoy foreplay, oral sex, and mutual masturbation, and achieve orgasm. It’s only when her body feels threatened by the act of penetration in the form of sexual intercourse that her vaginal muscles close up making the act very painful, if not impossible.


The causes of vaginismus aren’t fully understood, although it’s believed that for some women it’s triggered by a past traumatic experience such as a difficult childbirth or sexual abuse. Associating sexual intercourse with trauma, these women’s bodies will involuntarily “close up” to prevent them experiencing further pain.

While there are instances where a woman’s past experiences will influence her attitude to sex and be the underlying factor in her developing vaginismus, there are a high number of women who don’t have this association and want to have penetrative sex, but their bodies just won’t co-operate.


In order to treat vaginismus, it’s necessary to establish the root cause. If the cause is an obvious physical condition such as an injury or infection, then this can be remedied with the appropriate medication. If it’s not easy to determine what’s causing the condition, a woman may want to try some self-help techniques. A sex therapist may be able to help retrain the body to relax and respond normally to penetration.

Underlying psychological issues, such as fear or anxiety, can be addressed through counseling, while cognitive behavioral therapy may help to re-educate women about sex and deal with any irrational beliefs they may have about it.

Vaginismus can be successfully treated and no woman suffering with this condition needs to feel that she’s alone or isolated. Treatment programs can often be carried out at home, giving a woman the opportunity to work in privacy and at her own pace.