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What is Vaginismus?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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Vaginismus is a relatively common health problem found in women. The condition consists of often painful contractions of the pubococcygeus muscle (PC muscle) during attempted sexual intercourse or insertion of a foreign body, such as a tampon. Though frequently treatable, vaginismus can be difficult on relationships and even damaging to self-esteem. Many women's health experts recommend visiting a doctor or sex therapist for an official diagnosis and treatment options.

Symptoms of the condition typically occur when penetration is attempted. Involuntarily, the PC muscles shorten or tighten, making it difficult or impossible for a foreign body to enter the vagina. If penetration is achieved, the forcing open of the muscles is usually extremely painful for the woman.

There are two main types of vaginismus regularly seen in adult women. Primary vaginismus typically begins at the point of sexual maturity, continuing throughout the lifespan of the patient until successfully treated. Secondary vaginismus usually begins after a medically traumatic event that affects the vagina or reproductive system, such as labor, rape, or even menopause.

Frequently, there is a psychological component to the existence of vaginismus. The brain perceives penetration as a threat on some level, thus sends the message to the PC muscles to keep out the danger. Vaginismus is common in women who have had traumatic experiences such as rape or physical and sexual abuse. Counseling and therapy are often part of treatment programs for women with this condition.

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Treatment is often a combination of exercises, education and therapy. In addition to getting to the root of and sexual fears that may be triggering the response, sex therapists often work with a couple to create an environment in which the woman feels safe, comfortable, and relaxed. Women may also be asked to perform Kegel exercises to tone and gain control of the vaginal muscles.

Some treatments include the use of dilators to help get the vagina used to relaxing. These are plastic inserts that increase in size and width, allowing the woman to essentially train the vagina to open without muscular contraction. Sex therapists also sometimes suggest that a sexual partner should be included in these exercises, so that the psyche can associate a safe environment with the partner.

Despite a high success rate of treatments, many women live with vaginismus for years, often out of shame or embarrassment. Ignoring the condition can not only lead to an unsatisfying sex life, but can also lead to injury if the muscles are torn through forced penetration. Many health experts recommend seeing a doctor immediately if sex is painful or penetration impossible.

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