female sexual problems

Vaginismus occurs when the vagina is unable to relax and permit the penetration of the penis during intercourse (or inhibit medical examination or tampon insertion).

Normally, the vaginal sphincter (which is a group of muscles) keeps the vagina closed. When it expands and relaxes, it enables intercourse, childbirth, medical examination and insertion of tampons. Vaginismus occurs when the vagina is unable to relax and permit the penetration of the penis during intercourse (or inhibit medical examination or tampon insertion). When vaginismus occurs, the sphincter goes into spasm. Vaginismus is not uncommon. With some women, vaginismus prevents all attempts at successful intercourse. It may occur later in life, even if a woman has a history of enjoyable and painless intercourse.

What Causes Vaginismus

Frightening or painful experiences can cause some women to believe or fear that penetration might be painful or even impossible.

Cultural and religious backgrounds are sometimes strict and can reinforce the 'ideal of the virgin'.Concepts such as penetration, intercourse and even sex can cause fear or trepidation in the mind of a young woman. Stories about painful first intercourse reinforce fears of penetration. Fear about penetration can compound and create a pattern of sexual anxiety, causing the vagina to remain dry and unrelaxed before intercourse.

Recurring or lasting vaginismus can derive from adolescent conditioning and unsatisfying early sexual experience or abuse. In some cases, vaginismus may eventuate after a history of successful and enjoyable intercourse - due to a vaginal infection, the physical after-effects of childbirth, tiredness or some other cause, which causes painful intercourse, possibly leading to a pattern of further vaginismus even though the original cause has disappeared. The anticipation of painful penetration - even though there may be no physical impediment to normal, painless intercourse - can be a common cause of vaginismus.


Treatment for Vaginismus

It is possible to practice techniques which will prevent vaginismus, that is, to train the vaginal sphincter to relax and permit penetration?

It usually takes time and practice to 'retrain' the vaginal sphincter. Until you are confident that you can master these techniques, you and your partner should avoid attempts at forced penetration and concentrate on other sexual activities...of which there are many! Make sure that any pain you have experienced during attempts at intercourse is not a result of medical problems - consult your medical practitioner.

If the problem is found to be vaginismus try these techniques over time. Don't rush but set your goals - 'I will have enjoyable sex and enjoyable sex includes intercourse', 'I will enjoy penetrative sex'.

Relaxed and on your own, think about a level of discomfort you can tolerate for a short moment, deliberately let your vagina become tense. Then let it relax, use a lubricant and gradually insert your fingers or a vaginal dilator (obtainable through your doctor, or a sex therapist) into your vagina until you reach, but don't exceed, your discomfort level. Be realistic - allow some discomfort, perhaps expect it, but don't let it become painful - just progress one step at a time. There is no hurry, practice in the bath or shower if you prefer.

Find a position that suits you - lying back, on your side, squatting. It's your choice - allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Over time, progress further into your vagina, moving from your little finger to your index finger or perhaps using a larger dilator. Feel confident - you're not inserting anything into your vagina that won't fit; after all the vagina can expand to allow the birth of a baby! As you progress, incorporate water-based lubricants such as KY Jelly in your training - use as much or as little as you like. Gradually, you will train your vagina to expect these new feelings and larger objects.

Now you're ready to practice with your partner. Follow the steps again, but this time let your partner insert their finger or the dilator into your vagina - gradually. Proceed with patience - eventually your vagina will relax enough to permit your partner's penis to penetrate, perhaps a little at a time. Practice, practice, practice. Allow the experience to be enjoyable for you both - take time to discover each other's desires and turn-ons.

next: Types of Male and Female Sexual Problems

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 22). Vaginismus, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Last Updated: April 9, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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