Many of you are probably curious what vaginismus actually is. I had absolutely no clue what it was until I began dealing with the condition first hand. Even in the beginning, I was in denial that anything was wrong with me. I simply thought that sex hurt the first time you had it and that I just needed to learn to deal with it. I was also told sex was dirty and that one needed to wait until marriage to have it, thanks to my religious upbringing and schooling. However, those are not the only factors relating to my vaginismus. I will discuss that in detail in a separate blog.
However, after becoming more and more concerned with the pain that I was feeling, I did a brief Google search and “vaginismus” came up. Due to its severity and lack of treatment, I pretended I didn’t actually have it and silently kept it to myself for months. It wasn’t until I was in a session with my therapist that the pain was brought up and she helped me to seek real medical attention.
Now, not every doctor in this story plays a promising lead role. Some of my doctors turned out to be extremely incompetent. My first gynecologist knew I struggled with pain during examinations, yet never addressed it. Now, when I say “struggled,” I mean I was literally held down on the table by 2 nurses as I cried and shook uncontrollably whenever she examined me. Half of the time she couldn’t even examine me because my PC muscles blocked her. Yet, she still never addressed that there was a problem until I approached her saying that I believe I have this condition. Her response was, “Oh that makes sense! I always just thought you never liked exams.”
Let’s just take a moment of silence as we contemplate her ignorance.
I briefly touched upon what vaginismus is in my previous post: Sit Back and Enjoy the Journey…; however, today I’m going to try and explain it in a little bit more depth.
Vaginismus : noun “Vaginal tightness causing discomfort, burning, pain, penetration problems, or complete inability to have intercourse. The vaginal tightness results from the involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor, especially the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle group…” (vaginismus.com)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines vaginismus as a “Genito-pelvix pain/penetration disorder.” This is where a woman is unable to achieve vaginal penetration despite the desire to do so. This can be with tampons, dilators, sex, examinations, ext.
So that’s the medical definition, but for those of us who enjoy a more creative description, I’ll talk about that now…
Vaginismus is a real pain that can occur from either physical or non-physical events. For instance, physical pains that can trigger vaginismus are traumatic childbirth, surgeries, physical abuse and even illnesses or medical conditions that deal with the pelvic region. Non-physical causes can be a strict religious or non-religious upbringing, emotional abuse and anxiety or fears relating to sex. Women can suffer from one of these or they can suffer from multiple triggers.
For people like myself, I suffer from non-physical triggers. Physically nothing is wrong with me, but psychologically I have undergone quite a bit of trauma and it is causing my PC muscles to go into self-defense mode, even if I don’t want them to. Basically, I have had this problem for so long now (8 years) that it’s second nature for my muscles to spasm without me even realizing it. The PC muscles believe that is what they are supposed to do to protect me, especially during sex or intimacy. Even intimacy, like kissing, foreplay, hand holding, hugging and cuddling cause me anxiety and my muscles tense up or spasm.
Pain can vary depending on the individual and both vaginismus.com and a medical journal that I was given titled, “Understanding and treating vaginismus: a multimodal approach” by Peter T. Pacik, explain classifications of pain. You can view the website for yourself, as I have listed the link above, but Pacik states that there are 5 grades of the pain during an examination and pain during penetration is scored 1-10, with 10 being the worst. Below, I have listed his 5 grades of pain during examinations:
Lamont grade 1: “Patient is able to relax for pelvic examination.”
Lamont grade 2: “Patient is unable to relax for pelvix examination.”
Lamont grade 3: “Buttocks lift off table. Early retreat.”
Lamont grade 4: “Generalized retreat: buttocks lift up, thighs close, patient retreats.”
Pacik grade 5: “Generalized retreat as in level 4 plus visceral reaction, which may result in any one or more of the following: palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, severe trembling, uncontrollable shaking, screaming, hysteria, wanting to jump off the table, a feeling of becoming unconscious, nausea, vomiting, and even a desire to attack the doctor.”
These medical pain spectrums can be helpful to understand where you lie on the spectrum, but when I am asked how it feels to have sex, I give them the “Are you ready?” look.
For me, it feels like you are being ripped apart, there is a burning sensation in the vagina, it feels like sandpaper is scraping against the layers of skin in your vagina and then there’s my favorite of it feels like a metal shard is tearing away the inside of your vagina. It’s unbearable and excruciating, so obviously your brain is going to react to this pain by tensing the muscles so that nothing can get through.
Even though what I describe sounds extreme, I have had about 7 different doctors and 3 physical therapists examine me to make sure nothing was wrong with me anatomically. Every time, the doctors were baffled because I looked healthy. Some would be kind and cry as they realized they didn’t know how to help me. Others would give some advice or tell me to try and relax.
However, in another blog, I will discuss various treatments that are out there and what I have personally tried.