A how-to guide on progressing through vaginismus
Many individuals can suffer from vaginismus without even knowing about it
Vaginismus is “the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration”. It is completely involuntary and most often manifests in an inability to have vaginal penetration. This can mean simply attempting to insert a tampon can be an unbearably painful experience, and as such inconvenient and demoralising.
Whilst access to sexual information is easier than ever, vaginismus can easily lie undetected. If you have never needed to use tampons then someone’s first experience of vaginal penetration can be through sex, something that is portrayed as often pain-free.
Sure, it might be a bit uncomfortable the first time, we might even expect to have some light bleeding but a complete inability to have penetration at all? Well that’s something nobody seems to have warned us about. The worst part about it is the feeling that choice has been taken away from you.
You can’t just bear the pain to allow penetration. You can want so badly to insert a tampon, have a pap smear or have sex but the choice has been taken away from you. Reclaiming the feeling of choice is a major aspect in working through vaginismus and these tips will allow that process to start happening once you decide to take them.
Speak to your GP
Going to a GP is a great first step in your journey. You can discuss your symptoms and (if you feel comfortable) they can provide a physical exam in order to ensure that there is nothing else that could be causing you discomfort. From there they can refer you to a gynaecologist or a physical therapist who can help you with next step, dilating.
Dilating is for many individuals what makes the most difference in terms of penetration. Especially at the moment in lockdown it can be difficult to get face to face access with health specialists but dilating can be done at home and the sets ordered online. Usually dilators come in sets of four to six.
Starting with the smallest, which is usually the size of a pinky finger users can gradually build up their tolerance and progress through the different sizes. Dilating helps the individual to teach their body to relax and allow for penetration without the vaginal walls clamping up. Whilst consistency is key and patience is required, dilating really helps the feeling of gaining confidence and control.
Silicone ones are easier and more comfortable than plastic ones, and as they are slightly more flexible simulate the real thing more! Plus they can come in cute, pink colours!
Overcoming the emotional aspect of vaginismus is just as crucial as the physical. For many vaginismus can stem from a past trauma or repression. The moment they feel something trying to penetrate the vaginal wall their brain puts the trauma at the forefront, making them feel like they reliving the traumatic event all over again. Every time they attempt penetration a new trauma can be caused due to the pain which makes the automatic response to penetration become even more severe.
Working with a specialist therapist can help to work through the trauma and allow the brain to work through it. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy can be particularly helpful. There are some useful websites that can help you to find licensed psychosexual therapists near you, and many therapists will do online sessions, perfect for covid-era!
In the era of sharing and opening up online, there is a wealth of helpful pages on the internet. Started by those struggling with the same issues they can be incredibly informative and welcoming communities. One of the best can be found on Reddit called r/vaginismus.
Here, users share their experiences, success and down moments as well as what has worked for them. Other media forms can be found through podcasts, such as V&Me on Spotify, as well as blogs and YouTube videos. Communities such as these can help you to feel more grounded in your experience and be surrounded by those who feel the same way.
Acceptance and Patience
Unfortunately, vaginismus does not go away by itself and even when utilizing the resources it can take years to make even a little bit of progress. However accepting this and ensuring that you do not feel guilty for having it are so vital. Vaginismus is something that you can make progress with and reclaim the feeling of choice.
Equally however if you choose to take time out of progressing or decide not to do anything about it at all that is you making the choice for yourself as well. If you ever to want to work towards vaginal penetration it should be primarily due to wanting to make the change for yourself and not from pressures from partners, friends or the media. Every step you take is one towards progress. And if in doubt, LUBE, LUBE, LUBE!!