Here’s a question for vagina owners: have you ever had difficulty getting a tampon in? Have you ever felt pain or discomfort during sex like your partner may be slamming up against a very closed door during intercourse? If yes, then you may be dealing with something called vaginismus.
Scientifically, vaginismus is defined as vaginal tightness causing discomfort, burning, pain, penetration problems, or complete inability to allow vaginal penetration. In more simple terms, the vagina becomes a venus flytrap — when anything tries to enter, it simply clamps shut.
Some of the most frequent questions women have include: why do I have a venus flytrap situation, and am I stuck with this forever? Luckily, there are some clear physical and emotional causes that induce these involuntary muscle spasms that can lead to discomfort and pain. Physical causes include childbirth, pelvic surgery, infection including UTIs, hormonal factors like menopause or lack of vaginal lubrication, or certain diseases like cancer. Emotional causes tend to be rooted in past painful intercourse, past sexual abuse or trauma, or other emotional factors. However, in many cases, there is no defined cause which can be particularly frustrating.
Now, let’s get anatomical! There are 14 muscles sectioned into 5 layers that make up your pelvic floor. Typically, the more muscles are involved, the tighter the venus flytrap can become. Some women may not even be able to sit through a pelvic exam. Vaginismus is measured on a wide-ranging spectrum and can vary from person to person, affecting 5-17% of women.
This is a surprisingly substantial statistic. So, why isn’t it more talked about? We hear about erectile dysfunction all the time. For example, on Grafton Street there are giant Viagra advertisements displayed in the windows of multiple pharmacies. Most men can go to their GP for erectile dysfunction medication, pick up a prescription, and bam! Although still a challenge, this problem can usually be solved relatively easily. For women however, it can be much more complicated. The first step is recognizing that something is not functioning as it should in your own body. This can include less preferred or different methods of protection during menstruation, feelings of anxiety or embarrassment, feeling uncomfortable in sexual interactions with partners, dealing with associated physical pain and muscle spasms, and even recognizing a past trauma could be the trigger. Secondly, finding a specialised doctor and booking an appointment including the potential anxiety of attempting a pelvic exam that could induce pain is a challenge in and of itself. The final step is a gradual one of attempting to tackle the problem with treatments and therapy, which require a lot of patience and can initially be physically uncomfortable and psychologically draining.
So, what can be done for this venus flytrap situation? Are you doomed forever? Absolutely not! There are treatments that can help pry it open and keep it from involuntarily snapping shut. These include: the use of vaginal dilators, sex therapy and/or counseling, and pelvic floor exercises. Open and honest communication with partners during intercourse while also being comfortable with your own body as you make gradual progress are also crucially important.
Moral of the story, while some people can’t get-it-up, some can’t get-it-in, and that’s okay! Vaginismus should be normalised, and made more of a topic of discussion so others dealing with the same issue feel comfortable speaking up about it. In a world where Viagra advertisements are casually plastered over windows, it should be equally normal to discuss vaginismus.