Vaginismus is a silent killer.
Killer of self-esteem, of intimacy, of self worth and ability and confidence to be sexual. Although it is labelled as a sexual dysfunction, it is a life dysfunction and has an impact on not only sex and relationships, but health and mental health too.
This is a condition that impacts as many as 2 in 1000 women, but is rarely spoken about, and one of the key characteristics of this condition is the feeling of isolation that it can leave sufferers with. We experience a general level of shame and embarrassment about sex as a topic in general, and this is dramatically increased when there is a problem with sex, and a feeling of having no idea of where to turn.
We defined what vaginismus is in this article and what most common symptoms are.
What we also understand is that vaginismus can come about for any hundreds of reasons, there doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical cause. Roots can be in psychology, in a one off experience, or repeated or numerous ones; a lack of body confidence, general anxiety or difficulty around periods, to name just a few. Many experience negative emotional responses or feelings about their bodies, which can mean that they feel uncomfortable or too vulnerable about allowing someone else close. Others may have no idea why, it was just how they found their body to be when they first attempted penetration of any kind. For some, symptoms may begin after a period of normal sexual functioning.
There is no one size fits all, everyone has their own story, and whilst we can have an understanding of what it means to have vaginismus, we can not generalise our treatment and approach to it.
As a psychosexual therapist, I am always working with my clients to understand the meaning that this has to them and impact on their life. We all have beliefs about sex, even if we think that we don’t, and so much of this feeds into how we see ourselves as a sexual person, and it’s important to therefore think about how this is impacted if we don’t have the ability to express our sexuality in the way we want to.
One of the hardest things about vaginismus, is its invisibility.
Women with this condition don’t look or appear any different to those around them, and many have successful relationships and marriages. But this invisibility is what we need to change about this condition, and what this article is about.
So many suffer in silence, without a name for their symptoms and experiences, and without the understanding to deal with it. All this means is that women don’t access help, which can worsen the condition and continue the cycle of vaginismus along with the emotional consequences of it.
There are organisations working to change this, one being The Vaginismus Network which is connecting women with vaginismus and providing real life accounts of their experiences. The key consequence of the invisibility of any sexual dysfunction or condition is the isolation, and this is exactly what this network is trying to tackle. Many will report a sense of relief that others feel the same way, we place such importance as humans on the idea of fitting in, or ‘being normal’ when the reality is there is no normal, but it is reassuring not to feel like the only person in the world feeling the way you do.
September is Vaginismus Awareness Month.