Vaginismus is an involuntary spasm of the muscles surrounding the vagina. The spasms close the vagina and can prevent sexual activity and medical exams.
Vaginismus is a sexual problem. It has several possible causes, including:
- Past sexual trauma or abuse
- Psychological factors
- A response that develops due to physical pain
Sometimes no cause can be found.
Vaginismus is an uncommon condition.
The main symptoms are:
- Difficult or painful vaginal penetration during sex. Vaginal penetration may not be possible.
- Vaginal pain during sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam
Women with vaginismus often become anxious about sexual intercourse. This does not mean they cannot become sexually aroused. Many women with this problem can have orgasms when the clitoris is stimulated.
Exams and Tests
A pelvic exam can confirm the diagnosis. A medical history and complete physical exam are needed to look for other causes of pain with sexual intercourse (dyspareunia).
A health care team made up of gynecologist, physical therapist, and sexual counselor can help with treatment.
Treatment involves a combination of physical therapy, education, counseling, and exercises such as pelvic floor muscle contraction and relaxation (Kegel exercises).
Vaginal dilation exercises using plastic dilators are recommended. This method helps to make the person less sensitive to vaginal penetration. These exercises should be done under the direction of a sex therapist, physical therapist, or other health care provider. Therapy should involve the partner and can slowly lead to more intimate contact. Intercourse may ultimately be possible.
You will get information from your health care provider. Topics may include:
- Sexual anatomy
- Sexual response cycle
- Common myths about sex
Women who are treated by a sex therapy specialist can very often overcome this problem.
Cowley D, Lentz GM. Emotional aspects of gynecology: depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, substance abuse, "difficult" patients, sexual function, rape, intimate partner violence, and grief. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 9.
Update Date 7/28/2014
Updated by: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.