What is vaginismus?

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.

How common is vaginismus?

Experts don’t know how many people have vaginismus. Many people may be too embarrassed to talk about the problem with their healthcare providers.

Who might get vaginismus?

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.

What causes vaginismus?

Healthcare experts aren’t sure why some people experience vaginismus. It can cause physical, psychological and sexual issues. Bladder infections, UTIs and yeast infections can worsen vaginismus pain.

Factors that may contribute to vaginismus include:

  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Childbirth injuries, such as vaginal tears.
  • Prior surgery.
  • Fear of sex or negative feelings about sex, perhaps due to past sexual abuse, rape or trauma.

What conditions are similar to vaginismus?

These problems can cause symptoms similar to vaginismus:

  • Vaginal atrophy: Lack of estrogen after menopause makes the lining of the vagina thinner and drier (vaginal atrophy).
  • Vulvar vestibulitis (provoked vestibulodynia): This condition causes painful sex (dyspareunia). People may have pain from initial penetration throughout the entire experience.

What are the symptoms of vaginismus?

Signs of vaginismus include:

  • Discomfort or pain during vaginal penetration.
  • Inability to have sex or have a pelvic exam due to vaginal muscle spasms or pain.
  • Painful intercourse.

You should see a doctor if you have painful sex or pain while inserting a tampon. These feelings aren’t normal.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/28/2020.


  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. When Sex Is Painful. Accessed 10/29/2020.
  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease. Vaginismus. Accessed 10/29/2020.
  • Merck Manual. Provoked Vestibulodynia. Accessed 10/29/2020.
  • Merck Manual. Vaginismus. Accessed 10/29/2020.
  • National Health Service (UK). Vaginismus. Accessed 10/29/2020.

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