What is vaginismus?

Vaginismus is a spasm or contraction of the muscles around the vagina. This can happen during sexual intercourse. It can also happen when you try to insert a tampon into the vagina, or during a Pap test.

Who gets vaginismus?

The exact number of women with this condition is not known, since many women are embarrassed to discuss it with their doctor. However, it is important to openly discuss this concern with a doctor as treatments are available.

This condition sometimes begins when women are in their teens or early twenties, when they first attempt to use a tampon or have sexual intercourse. For other women, it can develop later in life, after a period of normal sexual function. It can happen every time penetration or intercourse is tried, or only occur in certain situations, such as during intercourse but not with the use of tampons.

What are the causes of vaginismus?

Vaginismus is thought to be a psychological condition, although some physical conditions can contribute to it. Situations that may contribute to vaginismus include:

  • Fear of sex
  • Anxiety
  • Past sexual abuse or trauma
  • Negative emotions towards sex

Yeast and urinary tract infections can add to the pain related with vaginismus. A condition called vulvar vestibulitis can also be confused with vaginismus, since the inflammation is often not noticed until penetration is tried. After menopause, the lack of estrogen in the vagina can cause pain and discomfort, a condition called atrophic vaginitis.

What are the symptoms of vaginismus?

The main symptom of vaginismus is painful, and sometimes impossible, vaginal penetration during sex or a Pap test.

You should see a doctor if you have painful sex or pain while inserting a tampon. This is not normal.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/20/2015.


  • Woo J, Armstrong AY, MacKay H. Gynecologic Disorders. In: Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ, Rabow MW. eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2015. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2015.
  • Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Novick AC, Partin AW, Peters CA. Campbell-Walsh Urology, Tenth Edition. 2012. chapter 30, 823-833.e2 Smith RP. Netter's Obstetrics and Gynecology. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2008. Chapter 82, 215-216.
  • American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. When sex is painful Accessed 3/20/2015

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