Vaginismus is an involuntary tensing of the vagina. People experience it at the start of sex, while inserting a tampon or while getting a pelvic exam. Vaginismus can make intercourse painful (dyspareunia). Kegels, vaginal dilators and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help relax muscles and stop spasms.
Vaginismus is the involuntary tensing or contracting of muscles around the vagina. The vagina is part of the female reproductive system. It connects the lower part of the uterus (cervix) to the outside of the body.
These unintentional muscle spasms occur when something — a penis, finger, tampon or medical instrument — attempts to penetrate the vagina. The spasms may be mildly uncomfortable or very painful.
Experts don’t know how many people have vaginismus. Many people may be too embarrassed to talk about the problem with their healthcare providers.
Vaginismus symptoms may appear during the late teen years or early adulthood when a person has sex for the first time. The condition can also happen the first time a person tries to insert a tampon or has a pelvic exam at a healthcare provider’s office.
Some women develop vaginismus later in life. It can happen after years without any problems. Spasms or discomfort may occur anytime there’s vaginal penetration. Or you may have them only at certain times, such as during sex or pelvic exams.
Factors that may contribute to vaginismus include:
These problems can cause symptoms similar to vaginismus:
Signs of vaginismus include:
You should see a doctor if you have painful sex or pain while inserting a tampon. These feelings aren’t normal.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and your medical and sexual history. A pelvic exam can help rule out other problems or confirm the presence of muscle spasms. Your provider may apply a topical numbing cream to the outside of the vagina before the exam to make the process more comfortable for you.
Vaginismus treatments focus on reducing the reflex of your muscles that causes them to tense up. Treatments also address anxieties or fears that contribute to vaginismus.
Your healthcare provider may recommend one or more of these treatments:
Vaginismus can affect your sex life and relationships with your partner. It can affect your mental health, leading to increased anxiety. If you’re trying to become pregnant, vaginismus may make it more challenging to conceive.
We don't know what causes some people to develop vaginismus. There also isn’t any known way to prevent it.
Many people with vaginismus no longer experience the problem after treatment. But successful treatment takes time, so you’ll need to be patient. Remember that it’s possible to have fulfilling and pleasurable sexual interactions by doing other things that don’t trigger vaginismus.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you experience muscle spasms or pain that makes intercourse uncomfortable or impossible, don’t be embarrassed to talk to your healthcare provider. You don’t have to keep suffering. Many problems, including vaginismus, can cause painful intercourse. Almost all of these problems are treatable. A lot of people see significant improvements in their sex lives and their mental health after vaginismus treatments.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/28/2020.
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