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.
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.
Vaginismus is thought to be a psychological condition, although some physical conditions can contribute to it. Situations that may contribute to vaginismus include:
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.
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.
Your doctor will begin by asking for a description of your symptoms. He or she will also do a pelvic exam to rule out other possible causes or your pain. If no physical condition is found, and your pain only happens during penetration, you most likely have vaginismus.
Vaginismus is usually treated with a combination of Kegel exercises to help relax the pelvic floor and counseling to deal with underlying stressors.
Vaginal dilators can be very effective. The goal of vaginal dilator therapy is not to stretch the vagina, but rather to give a woman the comfort of being able to place these safe devices both outside and inside her vagina, in the privacy of her own home. These kits usually start with very small dilators, and the woman can slowly advance in size as she feels comfortable. A specially trained physical therapist or your doctor can teach you to use these dilators, if preferred.
Sometimes, anesthetic creams can be applied to these dilators until a woman can get used to them. Your doctor will come up with the best treatment plan for you, based on the causes of vaginismus.
With physical and psychological treatment under the guidance of your doctor, vaginismus is often successfully treated.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 03/20/2015