Misconceptions on Vaginismus

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Misconceptions on Vaginismus

Everyone of us or of our partners, even many doctors, at some stage or the other may have held one or more of the following misconceptions. That's understandable because there is still a lot of misinformation regarding this condition, but it can be very damaging for a woman. So it's about time we get the record straight about what vaginismus IS and what it is NOT.

Misconception #1:

There is nothing physically wrong with women who have vaginismus. “It’s all in your head.” “You just need to relax.”

Although women who suffer from vaginismus have nothing ‘medically wrong’ with them, (ie. vaginismus is no disease) it is misleading to say that there is nothing physical happening in the body of a woman with vaginismus. This myth leads vag. women and their partners to believe that their body is ok, and therefore the pain they feel is “just in their head.” According to this myth, vag can be overcome simply with some will-power, mental effort, verbal therapy, hypnosis, or relaxation techniques.

Although this may happen in a few cases, and these techniques can certainly be helpful, for most women who’ve had vaginismus for a long time, who are virgins, or who haven’t had intercourse for many months or years, these methods alone simply won’t do. Their vaginas will still need to be retrained physically, often times through gradual dilation. Vaginismus is a physical reaction to anticipated pain and pain at insertion is real !

A good analogy is to imagine that your fist has been in a cast and has been kept clenched and tense for many weeks. After the cast is finally cut off, you will not be able to easily open your fist simply by thinking hard about it or by relaxing the rest of the body. The fist will need to be retrained most likely through physical therapy sessions.

In the same way, no matter how much you want to have intercourse, vaginismus most likely will not go away without dilation or other physical treatments. Don’t let anyone convince you that it’s all in your head…you are NOT mad! The pain you feel is VERY real.

Remember that nothing is medically wrong with a hand that has been kept in a plaster for months. It’s no different with your vagina. With physical exercises, the fist, as is with the vagina, will be able to open and feel relaxed once again.
No partner or doctor should make you feel bad by implying that vaginismus is simply all in your head.

Misconception #2:

Vaginismus is an unusual and rare condition. You're a freak of nature.

Although no global or even just national rates of the prevalence of vaginismus have been established, when combining data reported from sex therapists, gynecologists and scientific research, the rate is likely to be as high as 10% of the female population. So 1 woman in 10 is likely to suffer from vaginismus at some stage in her life. And if we add "painful sex" to the picture, as a friend of mine made me notice, then it is likely that ALL women will sooner or later experience a sort of 'temporary vaginismus', as a reaction to that pain.

Women are often very reluctant to report this problem to their doctors, or to anyone for that matter, so the numbers of those who are diagnosed are just the tips of the iceberg for sure. And unfortunately, some women in some countries will believe that they have to put up with some pain with sex, that sex hurts, so they WILL think they are normal in that respect, which is tragic..

So please know that vaginismus is NOT this rare, unknown condition. There are many women who feel your pain and know what you are going through. You may join a support group and you’ll soon meet many wonderful ladies sharing this problem and you can immediately realize how widespread, yet ‘taboo’ this problem is. You’re not alone… and there IS strength in numbers.

Misconception #3:

A woman with vaginismus is:
a) a frigid
b) unfaithful
c) not attracted to her partner
d) a lesbian

What can we say about this...? Of course these are the banal things to say. It's easier to just put the blame on the woman and make her feel that something is wrong with her rather than seeing the role a partner may have or society may have, in having caused her vaginismus.

A woman MAY be a lesbian if she has vaginismus, just like she may be a lesbian even if she had intercourse 24/7 with a man.

A woman's frigidity is an old misused concept which was again only used by men to put pressure on women to be more sexual but often a woman could be turned off by anything sexual after bad experiences or because of an unloving partner, or because of the vaginal pain she put up with for his sake, or she may simply be asexual or have other things that make her tick in her life..

As for a woman with vag. not being attracted to her partner, that in most cases is nonsense or she wouldn't feel that having vaginismus is this big tragedy, so chances are that women with vaginismus are very much sexual and attracted to their partner but something is blocking them and hurting them, so playing the role of a touchy rejected partner won't help her in the least..

But even if vaginismus was in fact trying to tell her that you are not the right man for her, then we guess that if it's true love it will stand the test this test..
And if not, then vaginismus wasn't the real problem in the first place.

But don't assume she doesn't love you just because her body won't open to you sexually. Look for other clues. If she says she does love you and if she shows you she does in other ways, then what's the problem ? Loving someone doesn't mean you have to let them in into your body, sometimes that may just not be possible.. She may have experienced abuse or other traumatic experiences or even if no direct cause was to be found, some women may take many years in a steady relationship before their bodies can open up. Every woman is different, she just has to be respected..
Finally, a friend of mine from Malaysia had told me that women with vaginismus are sometimes blamed there, and possibly in other Muslim countries, to be unfaithful and have affairs and that's why the men think their vagina then rejects their lawful husband, out of guilt basically.. Of course this myth is terribly unfair cause a woman with vaginismus is obviously completely unable to cheat on a husband of course and blaming her or abusing her will only contribute even more to her vagina clamping down, understandably so, to such a non understanding, unloving partner..

Misconception #4:

Vaginismus is a sexual DYSFUNCTION.

Although the term dysfunction has defined vaginismus for many years, the term has now been criticized by scientists and sufferers alike. It is a medical and psychiatric term which seems to imply that in all cases of vaginismus, the vagina is not acting as it ‘should’, and is therefore not functional) and this label also places vaginismus as a Psychiatric Disorder.. We think that's a bit too much!!

The DSM’s definitions of sexual dysfunctions have long been criticized by feminists as being heterosexist, and based on a phallocentric, and a coital norm (Tiefer 1999). You can also check other studies which concludes that vaginismus can be a perfectly functional reaction for some women.

Despite these criticisms, many gynecologists and writers of textbooks and websites on vaginismus seem to accept such definitions unquestionably.

Vaginismus generally occurs when a woman has fears, anxieties and negative associations with sex. It is therefore inaccurate and unfair to use the term ‘dysfunction'. This term only negatively labels women with vaginismus and further contributes to feelings of isolation and abnormality that are already felt. So throughout this website, Vaginismus will instead be seen as a FUNCTIONAL response of a woman’s body, especially when:

• a woman has been sexually abused or traumatized in other ways, and wants to avoid repeating any more traumatic experiences

• a woman has a partner who does not treat her right or who is too sexually demanding

• The woman does not want to comply with society’s pressure on her feminine identity to become a biological mother, a good wife and a great lover

• a woman is resisting society’s message that sex only means intercourse and that intercourse is central in men-women intimate relationships

• a woman is resisting society’s message that a woman must willingly give her body up in a relationship

• a woman feels fear of rape or sexual abuse and has associated sex with something negative and bad

• a woman has had traumatic sexual or non-sexual experiences and now needs plenty of gentleness in healing from vaginismus

Misconception #5:

It takes skilled professional help to cure vaginismus through systematic desensitization (dilating).
It can't be cured on your own

Skilled, yes. Professional, not necessarily.
You'll certainly need to find: - a person who knows a lot about vaginismus
- who has some dilators - who has a guide, good tips or techniques on how to dilate
-who can give some sort of emotional support

BUT you can certainly become THAT person !

Many women have, with success. We are not suggesting you overrule the idea of ever even checking out a good practitioner, but please do not let anyone fool you into thinking that it is not possible for you to solve vaginismus in your own home and by yourself cause that is JUST NOT TRUE... At least, give it a try. Then you can always ask for further help.. There should be no rush solving vaginismus anyway..
Some people are profiting out of solving vaginismus through progressive dilating (thanks to its high sucess rate) so they will and do send out the message that you will have to pay some 'skilled' professional (and quite a lot too) to heal from this and that you need to fix it as soon as possible.

Well, truth is, you don't..
If you are in that hurry and that desperate, we would first advise to ask yourself why and be very honest with you.. You may want to read some of our success stories, or read the interview with a loving partner to see that it is possible to take your time with this.. and that it's a good thing.

Misconception #6:

Vaginismus is caused by a hormonal deficiency.

It’s not surprising that the hormone theory has been used to explain vaginismus too. Hormones are very often used as scapegoats for many physical and psychiatric illnesses. Please know that there is NO scientific study which proves that hormones play a role in the development of primary vaginismus.

They may instead contribute to some cases of secondary vaginismus. For instance, an older woman may have hormonal changes during menopause and her vagina will be drier, which could make sex more painful and that can then cause vaginismus if she persists.

Although it is true that hormones can play a role in some cases of vaginismus, beware of doctors who believe that THE CURE for vaginismus is some type of hormonal therapy. They may help in some cases, but you will likely still have to then retrain your vaginal muscles a bit. So if they should tell you so, we suggest you to look for a second opinion.

Misconception #7:

The success rate for curing vaginismus is 100%!

Although the success rate for vaginismus IS in fact very high, and some studies with limited sample have shown a 100% success rate, no one can guarantee you a 100% success rate. Be very skeptical of any clinic, therapist or doctor which provides this success rate in its advertising material.

Before spending large sums of money, remember that these people can guarantee you NO better of an outcome than if you were working on your own and/or with the help of a support group and/or your partner. There is NO evidence that working with a therapist, clinic, or a doctor can prove better results than if you had no professional help.

It is VERY likely that you will heal from vaginismus, either on your own or with the help of therapists, so just don’t choose a therapist over working alone only based on their offer that with them you’ll have a 100% success rate.

They simply can’t promise you that more than you could promise it to yourself...

Misconception #8:

Once cured, vaginismus will never come back

Again, many professionals will guarantee you that vaginismus won’t return once you’ve managed to have pain-free intercourse for the first time.

For sure once vaginismus is solved (whatever that means for you), it will mean you have all the knowledge and tools you need to help your vagina be reassured that things are under control and that if they were to go bad again, you'll know how to help her out.
So in that respect, healing from vaginismus is for good.
But vaginismus or painful intercourse CAN indeed occur again. And NOT because the treatment was a failure or because you are a hopeless case, but simply because any woman can have moments where because of different circumstances in her life, painful sex may occur or her vagina will clamp down again.

For example, if a woman doesn’t have sexual intercourse for a long time, (i.e. after a difficult pregnancy and/or vaginal delivery) and she tries to have intercourse before her body has fully healed from that experience or without a gradual preparation, she may experience painful intercourse. Or if a woman who was able to cure vaginismus is later sexually abused, she may then develop vaginismus again.

You might find that especially for a few months after a successful treatment, you can still experience painful sex or painful insertions. If this is so, the most caring solution is to not pressure yourself into having intercourse as quickly as possible; this can cause unnecessary and counterproductive stress to your mind and body.

Your vagina might be trying to tell you something, so be kind and gentle to her and don’t put too much pressure on her. If you wish to work towards pain-free intercourse again, remember how you dealt with it the first time, and with gentleness and patience, you can quite easily retrain your vagina with the treatments you used in the past.

Vaginismus or isolated episodes of painful intercourse CAN come back after successful treatment, but the second time around you’ll be much more prepared to deal with it and treating it won’t be half as problematic, depressing or difficult.

Misconception #9:

Giving birth will make vaginismus go away.

I still remember the story of this woman telling us how surprised her gyno. was to see that she wasn't able to have the smallest speculum inserted, after she had given birth to a pretty large baby...!
She had vaginismus before her pregnancy and she still had it afterwards and the doctor couldn't understand why..
And maybe so can't you. You might think if a woman managed to give birth to a baby, it means her vagina was certainly able to open much more than the required width of the tip of a penis or of a tampon! So why wouldn’t she then be able to have pain-free intercourse after the delivery?!

Although this might seem logical at first, it is simply untrue. Intercourse is NOT the same physical process as childbirth. During childbirth, the vaginal muscles are “pushing out” and in most cases, the vagina naturally dilates in order to deliver the baby.

But when things are inserted instead, the muscles have to relax and place no resistance. So even if the muscles being used are the same, the physical processes and the WAY in which the muscles are used are in fact different.

Although giving birth to a baby may ‘loosen’ your vaginal muscles a bit, (sometimes even causing incontinence), vaginismus is unlikely to be healed from a vaginal delivery [See a study on this by obstetricians Dreth et al. (1996) in the Ref] . This is especially true if your vaginismus stems from psychological causes or if the delivery has been traumatic and extremely painful and if you had an episiotomy too. So unless these doctors suggest having an epidural every time you have intercourse!!, a vaginal delivery will not make your vaginismus magically disappear.. So please don't get pregnant hoping it will make the miracle..

Please see our page on Pregnancy and Vaginismus for more misconceptions and information on this topic

Misconception #10:

If there are no vaginal muscle spasms, it’s not vaginismus.

Unfortunately gynecologists who strictly adhere to the Diagnostic Criteria in the Psychiatric Manual will never be able to fully diagnose vaginismus in a woman who has no spasms or whose spasms are undetected by a gynecologist.

Spasms were thought to be the be all and end all of vaginismus. Thankfully, these criteria have recently been proven wrong and biased. Recently, a special commision on vag. (Crowley, Tessa et al. : Recommendations for the management of vaginismus. International Journal of STD & AIDS. 17(1):14-18, January 2006.) have finally decided that vaginal muscles spasms are NOT what mainly distinguish women with vaginismus from women without vag.
Instead a main criterion for women with vaginismus is the phobic, anxious reaction to having anything enter the vagina and the pain at entry. The presence of these two symptoms generally distinguishes a woman with vaginismus more than the presence of spasms.

Unfortunately, very few doctors have educated themselves of these recent changes. So if a woman manages to let a gynecologists insert a finger, showing a lot of distress, a lot of physical resistance, some signs that it’s not comfortable BUT doesn’t show any spasm, then a misinformed gynecologist will say that she doesn’t have vaginismus. If a gynecologist does not find any spasms, the usual diagnosis is “it’s all in your head” and “you just need to relax”. (This is quite a common response).

If you feel bold, and are tired of being treated as if everything is “all in your head”, show these studies to your doctor. You might help another woman in the future from feeling that she’s mad!

Misconception #11:

You are able to undergo a pap-smear easily (have a speculum inserted) so it’s not vaginismus.

This common myth again stems from not being more informed about vaginismus. The truth is, Vaginismus can be SITUATIONAL, meaning it appears in some situations and not others.
"A gynecological exam is presumably inconclusive in the case of situational vaginismus, where a woman is able to have pelvic examinations, but is unable to have intercourse" [From Reissing et al. (2004) p.6]

So some women have NO problem whatsoever with tampons or a speculum but they are unable have intercourse and the penis can’t enter despite arousal. Other women can have pain-free intercourse with one boyfriend and not be able to with another one. And others may be able to have pain-free intercourse but have trouble undergoing a pap-smear or inserting a tampon.

Many doctors do not realize that vaginismus is situational, and may just rely on misleading diagnostic criteria (which define vaginismus only as a condition that “INTERFERES WITH INTERCOURSE”). Thus many women who are able to have intercourse but are afraid and unable to have a speculum or tampon inserted, won’t be diagnosed with vaginismus, while in fact, they may have situational vaginismus.

Remember that doctors aren’t Gods (although some behave as if they are!), and you probably know WAY more about your body than they do!

Misconception #12:

You are single, so you cannot heal from vaginismus. You need to find yourself a boyfriend/husband before dealing with it.

This is simply untrue. Many single women wish to undergo a successful pap-smear exam and/or use a tampon. Remember that the traditional definition of vaginismus has been criticized (the diagnostic criteria describes vaginismus as something that interferes with intercourse).

But Vaginismus is NOT just something that interferes with intercourse (this is an extremely male-based view) but it is also something that can interfere with tampon use and pelvic exams. The marital status of a woman has nothing to do with her desire to have a pap-smear or wear a tampon with no pain.

If you want to solve your vaginismus to be 'ready' for a new partner instead, then you may want to read the chapter on single girls and vaginismus or a partner's reflections on single women and vag.
If you worry that your doctor may think you're a 'bad girl' for wanting to fix this while you're not married, remind your doctor that you have EVERY right to treat your vaginismus in order to have pain-free internal exams, in order to be able to wear tampons and in order to be able to use internal applicator and medications if you should ever need to.

If you don’t feel like facing your doctor with this, then it may be worth spending some time finding a good new gyno and investigating your best options.

Misconception #14:

Vaginismus can protect from rape

Unfortunately not. The muscles of every woman who tries to resist a sexual violence being perpetrated against her will close and contract in defense. Basically, every woman who has been victim of that kind of violence has had 'temporary vaginismus', but obviously the muscles are not as strong as to resist such violent aggressions :(
However, vaginismus may somehow pREVENT some sexual abuse. That is because, as some women shared with us, our vagina can sometimes clamp or make us feel very clearly that the person we are dating or that we are with is NOT good. We may not be able to pin point the reasons, it may look "ok" on the surface but our body seems to know better and very often, it does. Has it ever happened to you, that all your body was clearly telling you to get out of a bad sexual situation but you weren't really listening ? It's like our vaginas can be sending out strong vibes and it's up to us to ignore them or validate them.

So if your vagina together with your heart is sending out bad vibes when you are in a situation with a man, validate those feelings and try to leave if you don't feel comfortable (and before it's too late).

Misconception #13:

The causes of your Vaginismus are not as important as the cure.

This is an important myth to challenge.
Some therapists or partners will tell you not to think about what caused your vaginismus and to focus on fixing it instead, but we are not dealing with cancer here.
There is no rush to push aside those questions you may have about why you have this condition.

Figuring out what has caused your vaginismus can be an enriching and worthwhile journey, and can help put your past negative pain and hurts behind you and move forward as your vagina heals. Your vagina is trying to tell you something and we believe she deserves to be heard.

We live in a society that will give us the quick fixes so that we don’t stop and ask questions. Many people in this world don’t want women and don’t encourage women to think.

Many vag sufferers have taken the opportunity to explore the message that their vaginas are telling them. Rather than making your treatment a “quick fix” and trying to fix vag as soon as possible, try to get to know your body.

Have you ever wondered what your vagina is trying to tell you?
Many vaginas all over the world are saying “I’m sick and tired of opening at someone else’s command!” “There are too many vaginas everywhere, everyday which are forced to open at someone’s will, this needs to stop!”

Vaginismus can actually be an opportunity to stop, think and listen to your body and learn to love and cooperate with it. The message your vagina is trying to tell you could be a shocking one and usually powerful, it may change your life.

This can be an amazing journey for you if you allow it to be, it will be difficult and challenging but the lessons learned are worth the effort.

Women we are always told that they ‘think too much’: the truth is that we probably don’t think enough instead.

And vaginas are pissed about that.. globally. And maybe vaginismus is their battle cry.

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DISCLAIMER: This site is not designed to provide medical advice. All material is gathered from the experience of hundreds of women who experienced vaginismus but it is for information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional or medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Please review the information contained on vaginismus-awareness-network.org carefully and confer with a health care professional specialized in vaginismus, as needed.