Vaginismus: Tips to Partners
"There's a way back for every man, so here I amWAITING: REPRISE George Micheal in Listen without Prejudice
Don't people change? Here I am
Is it too late to try again? Here I am"
After days, months, or maybe years of worrying about her, wishing you knew how to help, thinking she is not attracted to you, wondering what is it that you do wrong, thinking that you are the only couple that must be experiencing this, and maybe even blaming yourself, you now know that there is a name to her pain and fears...
It's called vaginismus. And you are not the only couple dealing with it.
For some men, finding out the name of this condition is a blessing, so they can finally help their partners treat it or they can find support among other people going through this. For other men, "vaginismus" is just a medical label but it doesn't change how they were dealing with the problem, or with their partner, since they were having perfectly normal, loving relationship in spite of it.
However, some of you may feel that as a wife/partner she's failing you, depriving you, frustrating you etc, but if that's the case you may want to reconsider your definition of "partner" and see where you got the expectations you do. But as a human being she always deserves your understanding and compassion. It's your choice whether or not you want to keep judging her for how she is supposed to be instead of seeing her for who she is. Open your eyes and really look at her and accept her as she is. It can make a world of difference for both of you.
We hope that as a man, you too will take the experience of healing from vaginismus as a journey, not as something dramatic you HAVE TO fix asap, and that you will be free from attaching a lot of expectations towards the final result too, and just enjoy this journey of discovery instead and the chance of deep intimacy that going through this journey together can offer...
We believe that the most important thing is that you open your eyes and look at your partner as a human being and not as your own property failing you in her requirements as your partner. Look at her pain, her fears, her frustrations, her daily problems, her way of showing love, her body with new eyes.
We won't beat around the bush here: we don't believe vaginismus should be seen as this huge problem that can jeopardize a relationship. A loving relationship at least... And if you don't have a loving relationship, then vaginismus isn't your real problems so you should focus on fixing something else maybe.
So the following tips should be seen as helpful advice from men and women who have been through the understanding and self-treatment of vaginismus, but not as something you have to pressure her to try. If your partner should decide she doesn't really want to have intercourse for whatever reason, or that she doesn't feel like this is the right time for her to try and solve vaginismus, it should be respected.
You can use the following ideas only if she agrees trying out a few things and if she likes your practical involvement with this, but pressuring her to try any of these tips or taking control over fixing her vaginismus is NOT something we advise... We won't call you "complacent" if you just sit there and feel ok with her having vaginismus. We think that's a perfectly fine reaction too if you mean it, often a very loving, mature one. You are helping her that way too, by letting her know that you'll be there no matter whether she solves this or not because you're not with her for the sex. If you mean it..
You can also check our Guide to Dilating with her or read the section on Partners' Involvement
Vaginismus: no blaming
Remember the medical definition of vag: It is "the INVOLUNTARY spasm of the pelvic muscles surrounding the outer third of the vagina".
She didn't ask for it, she's not doing this on purpose, you can't have control on muscles that clamp in anticipation of fears, especially not until you learn more about them or about what causes them to act that way.. So she is probably feeling as frustrated, scared, alone, isolated, and confused as you are (and probably more so than you are...after all, it is HER body), so you really can't blame her and she shouldn't feel guilty about having vaginismus.
If you make her feel bad for it, then she may have very good reasons for closing up to you and your insensitivity.
But neither you are to blame of course. Unless you are insensitive, rude, and/or abusive to her, her vaginismus is not your fault either. She is not rejecting you, or not on purpose anyway.
We believe that lack of honest, open communication is the most likely cause of marital problems, rather than lack of intercourse, so if that is not your problem and you have intimacy, if you communicate deeply, if you both love each other and if you are on her side, then vaginismus may even be a pleasant discovery journey and the following tips may just help you support her through the journey and make it a nice experience for yourself too:
#1 Learn about vaginismus and play by ear
Vaginismus may be an invisible topic in society and not a commonly used word at all, but once you know what that is, there is a wealth of resources out there. Websites dealing with vaginismus are in the hundreds..
At this point, she has most likely hopped on the internet and spent time researching and learning about what vaginismus is. Maybe she has even joined an online support group and chatted with other women who also have vaginismus. She is probably feeling a milieu of emotions...somewhere between incredible relief and complete terror. She has now entered the world of vaginismus and started a journey.
So you can do that too. Not only will she feel like you really care about her by taking out the time to do this but you will understand if what you were doing before was beneficial or not. You may think you are already helping her, maybe by insisting that she see a doctor or start dilating.. But as a man wrote us, you may realize that you were helping, but helping in ways that were wrong or counterproductive. So just browse around, join a forum for partners, read some books, check sections from this or other websites, see different perspectives on it, read medical texts, ask her more about the treatment she is thinking of trying, or talk about whether it's the right time now to even go through any stress.
Then once you both have enough information, there is really no "right way" to handle this, to set on this journey.
See what inspires you, see how you both feel, try a few things, start from the psychological or start from the physical, or do a bit of both together. Or don't do anything at all, focus on other things.. Play by ear, see how you feel...
If she asks you, you can go with her to a a physical therapist, sex therapist or gynecologist.. if she wishes. Just remember: some doctors may even take your side, see you as the poor victim in this story, you may feel quite pleased about it, but be careful trusting any doctor or therapist more than you do her..
Please understand that a lot of gynaecologists are not too knowledgable about vaginismus or they may just have a vague idea of what the woman should do. There is still too little University education on Vulvar Pain problems for Doctors unfortunately.
So whatever they should say, it's her body..SHE knows what her body is doing and saying to her more than anyone else. Respect that.
#2 Don't believe the myths!You won't believe the misconceptions and flat out misinformation about vaginismus there is out there! Please read our section on that topic, before you go any further. It's important you have the right idea of what vaginismus is NOT.
#3. Stop having or don't have intercourse
until she is ready to transition to it
Well, this is pretty obvious, since sex hurts her. But you may think that 'practice makes perfect' and keep trying. Well, don't...
As you can find written in the online guides to dilators found online, and as most sex therapists and women in support groups will tell you, the only golden rule when trying to solve vaginismus is to take a break from trying to have intercourse until the woman is capable of inserting the biggest dilator without pain or discomfort.
Your partner has most likely developed vag. because she has associated sex with pain or with an invasion. If you keep hurting her, her vagina will just keep sending her brain the same message and in turn her body will close down even more until usually sex will become impossible.
"A cycle evolves in which subsequent fear and anticipation of pain increases the likelihood that future attempts at penetration will produce such a sensation of pain. This results in avoidance and the accompanying relief reinforces the avoidance" [from - Tessa Crowley, Daniel Richardson, David Goldmeier: Recommendations for the management of vaginismus 2006). See also Reissing 1999 "The spasm may represent an appropriate initial response to understandably painful stimuli but continues as a conditioned response even after the original problem is resolved"]
So there is no reason (medical or human) that she should endure any pain, EVER, during sex, especially not for your own pleasure. So we hope you are not one of those men who think they know better and who put their partner through pretty forced intercourse sessions thinking that their vagina or hymen will sooner or later stretch enough... The problem with vaginismus is more complex and no matter how "wide" or stretched a vagina is, if the muscles contract out of pain or fear, just like when your hand makes a tight fist, then the width of the hand is irrelevant..
So stop until she feels ready to try.. If you think you may not be that patient and don't know how to handle this wait anymore, check one of our partner's reflections on vaginismus. You may find some food for thought there... But remember: handling your sexual frustration is YOUR problem.
#4 Her vagina, Her pace
Don't put her on a time-table
Women with vaginismus are all unique and deal with their vaginismus differently and at different paces.
Your partner cannot be compared to other women. The best thing you can do is refrain from putting pressure on her, and watch her grow.
If she needs or wants your help, she'll ask or you can offer it but without feeling rejected if she preferred to try and deal with this on her own. It may be less stressful for her to work on vag on her own at first, and if she decides to do so, her decision should be respected.
It may take her 6 weeks, it may take her 6 months or 6 years. There is no way to know and it shouldn't really matter anyway. Vaginismus is not a life or death issue. Do not put unnecessary pressure on her by asking her "how long will this take?" or make comments such as, “This is taking a lot longer than I thought!” or “So you don’t want to have intercourse for how long?!”. These are things some of our partners said at first and well, they didn't sound supportive..
In no way placing pressure on her will work. And if it did, then it'd be a bit worrying. It'd be like advising you to be a bit of a bully cause it sometimes works so it's worth it..
WE BELIEVE NO AMOUNT OF PRESSURE ON HER TO SOLVE VAGINISMUS IS ANY GOOD. Encouragement, yes, on something she decided to try, but no pressure (or threats, or holding back affection etc. etc.). That is NOT loving.
#5 Make her laugh
We know of some creative partners who gave funny names to dilators, so as women try transitioning to intercourse or are dilating with them, they can have a laugh about it.
Make her laugh can greatly help in 2 ways: it helps them see vaginismus and dilating exercises in a lighter way, and practically speaking, laughing has the same effect that coughing has, it relaxes our muscles down there and basically opens them a bit.
Hey... Maybe that's why people say that women love men who make them laugh!!! See the things you learn thanks to vaginismus??
#6 Acknowledge your frustration -
Look beyond your frustration
This is what one young partner with high libido wrote us recently about sexual frustration and vag.
"As a young man I can tell you that sex IS important for me. At the same time, my girlfriend and loving her and doing the right thing for her is MUCH MORE important. Even so that doesn't mean that it can't be frustrating at times. At the same time it doesn't do any good to force things, one should go about it without pressure, together and with love, and see how it goes and support each other.
As a man with a powerful biological sex drive, it's ok to feel frustrated, to want to be physical, that is just part of our normal nature. But the thing that separates us from the animals is that we are not slaves to instincts and lower drives, so if one cares about 'his' woman and loves her then one can always find a way to deal with it without burdening her.
As a mature human being and someone caring about their partner, the man should deal with it without burdening her, if he does indeed want to be in this relationship with this human being."
Yep, in a nutshell... :)
#7. Get closer
Many women described how achieving intercourse was not the only or the best aspect of solving vaginismus. They felt thankful because working through the psychological and emotional aspects behind their vaginismus, and enjoying non-sexual time together, had got them closer. We will quote some of these many comments women shared with me in support groups:
"In some ways vaginismus has really strengthened my marriage and my husband's and my love for each other so for that I'm grateful"
"As stressful as it was at times, it also helped me and my partner draw closer because I saw how much he loved me as he supported me as we found other ways of connecting that a lot of couples don't get the chance to do"
Also, interestingly in the literature too it is often found that "vaginismic couples demonstrate significantly better communication and better overall relationship ratings than comparison groups". [Reissing 1999]. So if you are both willing to work together on this, it already means that you were a good, loving couple to beging with, so it's clear that dealing with vaginismus will only strengthen that and not make things worse for you.
If it does instead, then try not to focus only on the physical aspects of vaginismus. Ask her how she feels about sex, where she learnt what she knows about it, what her parents taught her with their actions. Just listen, you are no psychologist and she may need some sort of professional counselling, but if you have an open heart, you'll do her a world of good already for sure..
#8. Let her mould you!
Well, we've been informed that there are websites out there selling "mold-a-dildo" kits...!
Basically you are given all the material to create a home-made dilator which will be the exact replica of your penis (width and length). If she likes the idea, you may buy it and do it for her.
PS. Just be careful with the mould if you're hairy !!
#9. Get involved in her dilating sessions
Not all women will feel comfortable dilating in front of their partners, nor do all women like to have him involved and as we said before, that's perfectly acceptable, it doesn't mean she loves you less or what not, she just prefers to do it when she is not being observed. Plenty of women in relationships have healed from vaginismus without the actual physical support of their partners.
Some partners are deployed in far-off lands, so women often take that time to start working on vaginismus. Other women have unsupportive husbands so they decide to work on this for themselves. Others just don't feel comfortable having him around while she is being so mechanical..
But certainly some emotional support would always be appreciated, so if she doesn't need you to be her handy-man here, you can still show her you care in plenty of other ways...
Some women, however, told us they felt weird or even guilty, dilating on their own or getting aroused on their own, so they may want or even love the idea of their partners' practical involvement.
If that is your case she may just like to have you in the same room when she does her exercises, that way you get to look but not touch and she'll feel both safe and supported that way.
Other women cannot stand the idea of inserting anything, fingers etc, on their own, so they like for their partners to actually DO the insertions. If you are comfortable doing that too, there are many things you can do but ALWAYS FOLLOW HER LEAD..
Anyway, here are a few practical tips for dilating with your partner.
The following are advice taken from our experience with our own partners or from tips shared with us by dozens of women in different support groups. If you join one of them, you will see that many women suggest the following:
* Help create a warm atmosphere. See our selection of relaxing, sexy music in the guide; connect first! Talk about your day and about how you both feel, before starting the actual dilating.
* Lay beside her and watch as she gently inserts the dilator and learn from her (Note: Women use all types of dilators. Some use hard, plastic ones with a rounded tip, others use silicone ones that are more soft and life-like, some might use a tampon applicator, pealed vegetables with a condom, dildos or vibrators, a q-tip or fingers. Your partner has most likely chosen the one that is more comfortable for her so please don't comment on that choice if you can..).
* You can try doing it yourself but let her guide you first, let her move your hand. If she is using a vibrator, as some women prefer to, then she may place your hand on the vibe and put hers on top of yours to guide you with the in/outs.
Some women said how they would not have been able to handle it if their partner were to take lead doing the dilating, that's why at first it's important to let her in control. Personally, I didn't mind to let my partner try how he felt, cause I trusted him to be very gentle, to go very slow and to be very good at reading my body language because he knows me so well. But I still liked to hold my hand very gently on top of his, not too firmly, it was just there so that in case anything was painful or uncomfortable, I knew I could have stopped him there and then, and that eased my mind and he certainly didn't mind nor did he take it personally or made me feel bad for not trusting him.
So if you (the partner) are in charge, you can read our guide to dilating for information on how to insert it, how to move it once in etc. and then do it. Or she may already know what to do and will guide your actions vocally (right-left, lol) and you just have to follow and be a good obedient boy :)
* Don't mess around, or she'll lose trust.. That's pretty obvious. We heard of how some men get excited about helping out with the dilators and they may think "oh, if you she could do this, surely she could do some more now", and then you may want to do more even if she's not ready! Well, when you are moving the dilators inside her and you're in charge, please don't follow YOUR intuition!!!
As one girl put it "he was so excited that he started to think with other parts of his body!!!". You got the hint.. So whatever you have in mind may work, but please note that at this stage she would perceive it as losing control of the situation and anything not planned could scare her and she may lose trust in you....
* If at any point she becomes uncomfortable with the exercise, SLOWLY, on her command, guide the dilator out. (But read our article on "Reversed Vaginismus" in the Guide, for more information on this tip because it can be just as painful to pull the dilator out abruptly without care, lube or proper warning than it is to push it in, though it's less acknowledged..
* You can also try “thrusting” with the dilator, without completely taking out the dilator or if you decide to take it out and reinsert it, remember again that it may hurt so do it slowly.. And don't be surprised if the second time around, she clamps down and you can no longer insert it back in. Most of all, don't remove a dilator all the way unless she agreed to it!
* Mix and match these exercises to her comfort level.
* Help her make it a non-stressing experience, or even a fun one! You could reward each other at every new stage she reaches. For example, as one partner did, you could add a sticker or golden star somewhere in the bedroom or kitchen everytime she dilates or when she progresses from one dilator to the other :)
And don't worry, if you are very gentle, if the dilator is lubed and you are both in comfortable, safe positions, it will be pretty impossible for you to harm her.
* Remember that these partner-exercises are in NO WAY essential to her solving vaginismus. They are completely up to her. Many women find it helpful to dilate with their partners before transitioning to intercourse while others don’t think it’s necessary. Either way is just fine.
Please check also the article on "Involving your Partner" in our Guide.
#10 Stop focusing on i/cThis is a really common misconception. Many men and women come to believe that a good sex life means being able to have penis/vagina intercourse. They also believe that if you love someone, you should show it through having intercourse and that if you don't, sooner or later there'll be troubles either for your health or for your mental sanity and relationship satisfaction..
If you subscribe to this misconception, then you most likely feel like your sexual life with your partner is lacking something, and we would like to ask "compared to whom?"
Your own relationship is unique and you shouldn't have to follow the general standards of society.
Many couples go through unnecessary hurdles only because they want to be able to feel "normal". By focusing on how different they are from the stereotyped version of a "normal" couple, they will fail to see the unique relationship they have built together and its worth. You could go your whole relationship just kissing or having outercourse and still have a loving and fulfilling relationship. Or you could have a relationship where, for whatever reason, you express how you feel without being physically sexual and it is completely possible, and beautiful...
#11. If her vaginismus stems from past abuse:
Even if it's not as common a cause as it was usually believed, a direct sexual abuse or assault is still a very likely cause of vaginismus, and it's one example where it's very clear what a protective mechanism vaginismus can be, what an understandable reaction to having experienced humans' cruelty, and not a medical dysfunction..
I am not qualified to teach you how to support a woman who's been through such traumatic or negative experiences but before giving you some helpful resourced we think may be useful, or before encouraging you to deal with this with a sensitive professional, there are some points I feel should be made:
Sexual Healing is a beautiful word and a beautiful process, but it doesn't necessarily mean that by the end of it she will have to get back to being able to have sex...
A woman should not be pressured to heal those past sexual wounds with the aim of becoming open and sexual again, and even working on fixing vaginismus should be done if she deeply wishes so, or it could mean making her lose a sort of protective mechanism, even a filtering one..
In my experience as a child victim of sexual abuse, I am glad I never "fixed" vaginismus before I did. For many years I blamed myself for not giving some men "a chance" with me. They begged and swore their good intentions to me, or tried to make me feel like a cold, closed person, and told me I had to let them try, but my vagina would clamp even just at holding their hands sometimes and I would fast run away from all of them. Sometimes literally! :)
Looking back now, with hindsight, and after having met the wonderful man I've been with for almost 3 years now, I realized how thankful to my vagina I have to be. I wasn't being cold, I was just listening to an intelligent part of me who was very intuitive. With my current partner, just talking to him made my muscles relax and open up... My whole body relaxed.. There was no convincing to do on his side, he didn't want me to give him a chance, he just wanted me to feel free to be who I was around him, no pressure and no judgement, cause he liked the core of me, and all the rest (like my ability to have intercourse) were just insignificant details I was free to change or keep, fix or leave as they were, as I wanted to.. but he never asked me to change ANYTHING for his sake.
And this was extremely healing, more than any therapist...
So, trust your partner's body, trust her heart, if you love her, it won't be hard anyway. If her body feels that she is not ready to be that vulnerable again, sexually, I hope you can be mature enough not to take it personally. If she loves you, and you love her back, lack of intercourse won't be a big deal in the first place.
If one of you doesn't really love the other, then vaginismus is not the proble to focus on anyway and you should be honest about what to do. But don't assume she doesn't love you just because her body won't open to you. 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 your body, sometimes that may just not be possible..
Again, if there is love, then it's NO big deal.. If there isn't love, then vaginismus is not the problem in the first place..
Maybe her body may take 3 years before opening up again, maybe 10, maybe she's been so traumatized that her vagina just won't expose her to anything even slightly problematic again, like a pregnancy or an STI etc..
It will have to be respected.
If she wants to start the process of healing instead, then you can be there for her and it will be beautiful for sure..
But it has to start from her, her body should not be "convinced", it should just be helped once it decided to give humans a second try...
Anyway, I got carried away...
So these are some of the resources that have been very useful to me and other wonderful women who suggested them to me many years ago.
Best of luck...
1. THE SEXUAL HEALING JOURNEY: A guide for survivors of sexual abuse
by WENDY MALTZ
2. SEX SMART: How your childhood shaped your sexual life and what to do about it
by ALINE P. ZOLDBROD
3.BELOVEDS IN BED:201 secrets of soulful intimacy
by MACKENZIE JORDAN
4. WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES
by CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTES
#12 DO NOT EVER BE VERBALLY OR PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE!If you are verbally or physically abusive to your partner, her vaginismus may actually be a defense mechanism which her body uses to protect herself from further emotional or physical pain. She will not be able to overcome vaginismus while you treat her this way; you cannot expect her vagina to open up when it is under so much emotional and physical stress. Dilating won't work in a stressful environment.
We would even warn against teasing or light joking about her vaginismus. Even if your partner is not too touchy, chances are this is an extremely sensitive subject for her, and your jokes might hurt more than help (but this is a case by case issue and for some women it is actually beneficial to be able to laugh about this together, just make sure that's how she perceives your jokes, she may laugh but really feel hurt inside).
If you are physically and/or verbally abusive, if you have hit your partner or threatened her and are finally realizing how hurtful your behavior is, you can change your behavior. If you are unable to stop this abusive behavior you should seek outside help. You could try contacting your doctor to get references and referrals. You could also check online for organizations helping men who have abusive relationships, or you could go to therapy alone or together with your partner, if she agrees. There's a way back for every man. You can change, but you need to open your eyes and really see what you are doing.
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